Elon Law partners with Family Justice Center to support crime victims

By Eric Townsend, Elon University | Published: Friday, February 24, 2017 at 12:15PM.

Margaret Dudley, a longtime North Carolina lawyer with experience practicing family law, has joined Elon Law to manage legal resources and advocacy in Greensboro and Burlington for survivors of domestic violence, elder abuse and sexual assault.

Margaret Dudley

A prominent Greensboro attorney who specializes in family law has joined the Elon University School of Law staff to coordinate legal services for crime victims seeking help from local government agencies.

Margaret A. Dudley is the first supervising attorney for the Emergency Legal Services Program that Elon Law is managing in coordination with the Family Justice Centers of Guilford and Alamance counties. The program is funded by a three-year, $1.3 million grant from the North Carolina Governor’s Crime Commission.

The program provides victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in Guilford and Alamance counties with emergency access to legal assistance and representation to ensure physical and psychological health and safety. Victim advocacy and court accompaniment will also be available.

“I have always derived professional satisfaction from helping children in custody cases,” Dudley said. “That feeling will now be even more rewarding by providing legal guidance and support for people facing trauma in areas of domestic abuse. Our main goal is to empower clients to hopefully be able to extricate themselves from environments that profoundly destabilize families. And some of the clients we serve would not otherwise be able to get this kind of legal advice.”

Launched in 2015, the Guilford County Family Justice Center on Greene Street in downtown Greensboro describes itself as a “one stop shop” for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, and elder abuse. It brings together law enforcement, medical, and social service professionals to coordinate access to vital services and information with a special focus on victims of domestic and sexual violence.

In its first six months of operation after opening, the Guilford County Family Justice Center served 2,500 individuals and families. Outside of victim advocacy and law enforcement for victims in crisis, legal services were the third-most requested service by Guilford County clients. Of the 565 clients served during that same time by the Family Justice Center in Alamance County, 261 were referred to Legal Aid and 38 were referred for offsite legal assistance.

The need for immediate access to an attorney for support were largely unavailable, leading to a partnership with Elon Law that would connect clients with attorneys and student interns.

“Attorney Dudley brings a rich knowledge of the judicial process in our community,” said Catherine Johnson, executive director of the Guilford County Family Justice Center. “Her expertise will be of great benefit to our clients. This also a tremendous opportunity for the law school to show leadership in what is considered a very significant social issue. Together, we are bridging gaps in services, and communities across our state see this as an innovative approach to addressing client needs.”

Calling it a “huge win for Elon,” Johnson also pointed to a broader benefit: better awareness within the legal profession of domestic and sexual violence, and its impact on communities. Having trained attorneys on site to meet the legal needs of victims will also enhance a victim’s ability to create a safe and stable environment for children.

Family Justice Center officials believe the Emergency Legal Services Program, along with the wraparound services being provided by center partners, will increase the autonomy and safety of victims, ultimately saving lives.

“We have long known that the absence of civil legal services represents a significant gap in services for victims that often prohibits them from moving forward,” said Cindy Brady, executive director of the Family Justice Center of Alamance County. “This collaboration adds a substantial benefit to the list of comprehensive services at both centers and further enhances the concept of one-stop services for victims.”

A graduate of Howard University School of Law, Dudley moved to North Carolina in 1974 to work on a prisoners’ rights project for the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and as a legal researcher for a Greensboro law firm. She was hired as a deputy county attorney in 1977, working for the next seven years with Guilford County departments focused on social services.

Dudley moved to private practice in 1984 and set out as a solo practitioner in 1994. She has focused much of her work on civil litigation with an emphasis on family law and throughout her time in the city has served on several community and civic boards, including Central Carolina Legal Services, the Greensboro branch of the NAACP, the Greensboro Citizens Association, and the N.C. Black Women’s Political Caucus.

“They taught us at Howard University that we had a responsibility to use our education to help improve our communities,” Dudley said. “This new role will most definitely do that.”

About Elon Law:

Elon University School of Law in Greensboro, North Carolina, is the preeminent school for engaged and experiential education in law. It integrates traditional classroom instruction with highly experiential full-time residencies-in-practice in a logically sequenced program of transformational professional preparation. Elon Law’s groundbreaking approach is accomplished in 2.5 years, which provides distinctive value by lowering tuition and permitting graduates early entry into their professional careers.

For more information, visit law.elon.edu.

Originally Published: http://www.elon.edu/e-net/Article/144491

Partners Collaborate to Address Elder Abuse in Alamance County

Family Justice Center of Alamance County | January 3, 2017

Burlington, NC –Alamance County is one of ten counties, nationwide, to receive a grant from the Office of Violence Against Women (OVW) to address elder abuse in our community.  The Elder Justice Project advances an ongoing effort that began in 2013 by the Department of Social Services, the District Attorney’s office and local law enforcement agencies to establish a system of response to elder abuse that ensures the most effective and efficient approach to helping seniors who become victims of abuse.

The funding of $350,000 is for a three-year period and will be used to combat elder abuse and violence against older adults.  Grant funds will support a three-year project aimed at enhancing support to older victims of violence, through specialized training for service providers, law enforcement, and judicial officials and through the creation of a multi-disciplinary team that will advance services and response for cases of elder abuse. Having a coordinated response from the multiple providers that are involved in most elder abuse cases is a demonstrated model that has improved services in other areas, such as domestic violence and sexual assault.

The collaboration involves multiple partners. Primary partners are Family Abuse Services of Alamance County, the Adult Protective Services unit of DSS, Elon Police Department, and the District Attorney’s office. Alamance County Government is the applicant organization and fiscal agent and the Family Justice Center is the implementing agency. Alamance County DSS will be the responsible county department for the grant. In addition to the above, Impact Alamance provided the grant writer for this project and commitments have been obtained from numerous service providers who are dedicated to confronting the issue of elder abuse in our community.

Tracy Turner has been hired to direct the effort.  Tracy has a long history with Alamance County and facilitated initial efforts that eventually resulted in the creation of the Family Justice Center.  She also served as the Director of the NC Department of Social Services Directors Association where she helped create and develop a system of response for child welfare.  Ms. Turner has years of experience supporting NC communities with initiatives to coordinate services to victims of violence.

“We are very proud of the initiatives that have come about as a result of the Family Justice Center and the collaboration that it has fostered among agencies. It is our honor to serve as the applicant agency for an effort that will help the seniors in Alamance County” remarked County Manager, Craig Honeycutt.

Elder abuse victims face unique obstacles in getting help and the services they need, due to isolation, fear of losing their caregiver and threat of being placed in a nursing home, as well as embarrassment that the perpetrator is someone who they trusted.  Many incidents of elder abuse go unreported and underreported.  For example, some victims may report financial exploitation while choosing not to report physical and sexual abuse due to feelings of shame and/or fear.  It is imperative that appropriate services are available, accessible, and comprehensive.

Cindy Brady, Director of the Family Justice Center, states “The incidence of elder abuse is growing and we must have a system to provide comprehensive services, very similar to the system we now have in place for intimate partner violence. Having diverse partnerships at the table and on the same page is what makes this all work.”

Lynn Rousseau, Director of Family Abuse Services, agrees and will have an advocate who will specialize in elder abuse. She states “It makes sense to expand services to meet this need within an agency that has expertise with domestic violence and victim services.” LaTawnya Hall, Program Manager for Adult and Family Services, added “The partnerships that have already been generated with this effort is going to allow Adult Protective Services to expand their capacity and provide even more effective services.

As the lead law enforcement agency. Cliff Parker “is honored to be a part creating a consistent and systematic way to address the growing number of cases in Alamance.” District Attorney Pat Nadolski commented, “Having all stakeholders involved and at the table makes it more probable that we will have what we need to successfully prosecute. Many of these cases have multiple layers so it makes sense to have a multi-disciplinary team to address all of those layers.”

Letter to the Editor

Cindy Brady, Family Justice Center of Alamance County June 2016

Dear Editor,

I read with interest the weekly commentary by Pastor Mark Fox in the Times-News on June 11, 2016. As the Director of the Family Justice Center, my perception about the context of the question “are you safe” takes on a different meaning than Reverend Fox, but is equally important. Within the context of violence, this three-word question offers a very important first step toward safety for domestic violence victims.

First, I want to applaud Cone Health/Alamance Regional Medical Center for their commitment to a violence-free community, which they demonstrate by having a standard practice that insists they speak with patients alone and ask “are you safe?” For many victims, this may be the first time they have been out of earshot and able to speak truthfully about the batterer’s abusive actions.  

I also want to recognize the many other professionals who echo the question “are you safe” from within their own discipline and who then work tirelessly to assist those for whom a safety strategy is a daily concern.

Alamance County has chosen to attack this issue aggressively and relentlessly because what we know is that victims who feel that it is safe to come forward will do so. And, the more opportunities a victim has to answer this question, no matter where they enter the door for services, the more likely they are to feel supported enough to move themselves toward safety.

If someone is experiencing domestic violence, they should contact the Family Justice Center at 336-570-6019 or Family Abuse Services’ 24/7 crisis line at 336-226-5985.


Cindy Brady

Electronic Protective Order System Wins 2014 Government Innovation Award 

Family Justice Center of Alamance County March 2015

Chapel Hill, NC – The Alamance County Electronic Protective Order System won the 2014 Government Innovation Grant Award (GIGa) at a ceremony held at the UNC School of Government. The GIGa program is a partnership of the Local Government Federal Credit Union, the UNC School of Government and the North Carolina Local Government Information Systems Association (NCLGISA).

The goal of the GIGa Program is to reward technological innovations across governments in North Carolina who are engaged in efforts “that help improve citizen services by increasing efficiencies, effectiveness and possibly creating cost savings.” Selected programs are included in the annual “State of the State of Technology” compilation, featuring all governmental submissions and offering promising practices for local governments to model and implement.

Victims of domestic violence in Alamance County previously ran a bureaucratic gauntlet when applying for legal protection from their abusers. Many had to travel to multiple locations to acquire a protective order, and the number of agencies involved often meant delays in enforcing the order.

With the initiation of the Electronic Protective Order System on 6/24/13, the testimony of the victim and the subsequent order is transmitted via a web-based system to the Clerk of Court’s office. From there, documents are forwarded electronically to the District Court judge, where a victim can be heard via a webcam. If granted, the order is then transmitted and printed for the victim as well as the sheriff’s department to service the order.

The Electronic Protective Order System has had a huge impact on services and safety for victims and personnel:

  1. The collective time for processing has been cut in half – from twelve to 3-5 hours.
  2. Referrals to other Family Justice Center agencies have doubled and tripled which means victims are able to take advantage of the services they need with one stop.
  3. Law enforcement personnel have 24/7 online access to the protective order which improves safety for the officer and the victim.

Attached is a picture of the team that was present to receive the award:

  • Sherrie O’Shields – DV Administrative Assistant, Alamance County Sheriff’s Office
  • Judge Brad Allen – Chief District Court Judge, Judicial District 15A
  • Cindy Brady – Director, Family Justice Center of Alamance County
  • Greg Paravis – PC Systems Manager, Alamance County MIS
  • Donna Harris – Assistant Clerk of Court, Alamance County Clerk of Superior Court
  • Judge Katie Overby – District Court Judge, Judicial District 15A

Not pictured but instrumental in the development of the Electronic Protective Order System:

  • Jill Davis – Trial Court Coordinator, Alamance County District Court
  • Judge Jim Roberson – Chief District Court Judge, Judicial District 15A
  • Frank Merricks – Director, Alamance County MIS
  • Lynn Rousseau – Executive Director, Family Abuse Services of Alamance County

Please feel free to contact me at 336-512-0342 if you have additional questions.

Alamance First-of-its Kind Court Program Wins National Honor

By Michael D. Abernethy, Times News | Published: Thursday, August 21, 2014 at 7:06 PM.

An electronic system developed in Alamance County to make it easier for victims of domestic abuse to obtain court-ordered protection is among the winners of a national competition for government technology.

The Alamance County Electronic Protective Order System is one of 10 winners of the 2014 GCN Awards for outstanding information technology achievement in government. This year’s other winners include the U.S. Air Force, the New York City Department of Transportation and the U.S. Navy’s space and warfare command system.

The awards recognize impact to the public and government efficiency. They are sponsored each year by GCN — an abbreviation of government computer news — a magazine detailing advances in government technology solutions. More than 150 nominations were reviewed by an independent panel of eight judges this year.

ALAMANCE COUNTY’S program streamlines the process for domestic abuse victims to obtain protective orders from District Court judges. It’s the only program of its kind in the state and is believed to be the first full-service protective order system in the nation.

It requires victims to make only one stop, at Burlington’s Family Justice Center, where they are sworn in and speak with a District Court judge over a web-based camera. The judge completes the protective orders online during that hearing and sends victims to the Alamance County Clerk of Courts Office, where the orders are printed and filed. The clerk’s office then electronically submits the orders to the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office for service.

The old method required victims to travel among all those offices to deliver paperwork, and it took hours to complete. It was so cumbersome that victims frequently gave up without obtaining the protective orders, and it was so confusing that the orders sometimes weren’t filed correctly or weren’t served on abusers.

Paul McCloskey, GCN’s editor in chief, said Alamance County’s project is an example of “outstanding public benefit” and “simple, elegant solutions” that should be a model for other government agencies.

“It was an example of the perfect coming-together … of a group of people who made sure this system worked and that all the pieces fit properly, and that victims of abuse could in fact communicate with the justice system,” McCloskey said. “On all three of those levels, everything clicked.”

ALAMANCE COUNTY’S team worked with the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts to create and fund the system. It took months to develop and went live in August 2013.

Some of those involved in creating the system were Cindy Brady, Family Justice Center executive director; Jim Roberson, Alamance County Chief District Court judge; Lynn Rousseau, Family Abuse Services of Alamance County director; Greg Paravis, Alamance County’s PC systems manager; Donna Harris, with the Clerk of Court’s Office; Sherrie O’Shields of the Sheriff’s Office; and Jill Davis, who heads arbitration and other District Court matters.

“I think we almost take it for granted now because we worked so hard on it for all this time,” Brady said. “It’s a reminder of what can happen when people play well together.”

Frank Merricks, director of the county’s Management Information Systems Department, nominated the project. A longtime GCN reader, he believed the project was worthy of recognition, being the first of its kind and the first county project in his 25 years of employment to meet the awards criteria.

This is the 27th year of the GCN Awards. The winners will be recognized during a ceremony in October in Vienna, Va.

The other winners are:

■ Navy Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command;

■ FEMA Risk Analysis Division;

■ Internal Revenue Service;

■ Office of the CIO, New York City Department of Transportation;

■ USAF Air Mobility Command;

■ Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services;

■ NIST Computer Security & Intelligent Systems;

■ Navy Sea Systems Command; and

■ California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Electronic Protective Order System Wins National Award

Family Justice Center of Alamance County August 2014

Burlington, NC – Alamance County’s Electronic Protective Order System has been awarded as one of 10 2014 GCN Award Winners for “Outstanding Information Technology Achievement in Government.”

The GCN Awards program, now in its 27th year, is one of the oldest award programs dedicated to recognizing excellence in public-sector information technology projects and project teams.

Each year, GCN solicits nominations from its readers describing projects that have made the greatest impact on the efficient operation of government, as well as on the public and agency end users for whom they were designed.

This year, GCN received over 150 nominations, from which a panel of distinguished public-sector IT managers picked 10 winning projects and 10 honorable mentions they felt best met the criteria of the awards.

This year’s winning GCN Award projects ranged from a system that streamlined obtaining protective orders for victims of physical abuse to a  cost-saving mobile app by a self-taught Air Force dev team.

Kshemendra Paul, Program Manager of the Information Sharing Environment and Chairman of this year’s panel of judges, noted how the winning projects illustrated a “balance of innovation” across federal, state and local jurisdictions

This year’s judging panel included:

Terry Halvorsen, Chief Information Officer, Department of Defense
Karen Jackson, Secretary of Technology, Commonwealth of Virginia
Mike Krieger, Deputy CIO, Department of the Army
Dan Chenok, Executive Director, IBM Center for the Business of Government
Adel Ebeid, Chief Innovation Officer, City of Philadelphia
Renee Wynn, Chief Information Officer, Environmental Protection Agency.
Venkatapathi (PV) Puvvada, President, Unisys Federal
Kshemendra Paul, Program Manager, Information Sharing Environment

Together they were asked to choose projects they believed demonstrated
ingenuity in the uses of information technology, the greatest impact on
improving the costs and performance equation of agency systems, and those which
were staffed by public sector teams demonstrating the greatest leadership.

“This year’s GCN Award winning project teams demonstrated an outstanding
degree of technical creativity in pursuing solutions for agency customers,
whether they were Air Force flight teams, healthcare insurance buyers, or
courts helping victims of abuse seeking legal protection,” said
Paul McCloskey, Editor in Chief, GCN.

“The innovation shown in these projects- from teams that wouldn’t accept
failure has helped produce a year of exceptional technology performance
and ingenuity in public sector IT.”

Frank Merricks, Director of the Alamance County MIS Department nominated the Electronic Protective Order System for the award. Frank commented, “Cindy and the local team put in the blood, sweat and tears.  I am very glad I decided to apply for the award.  In my 25 years with the County it was the first project we had that met all of the criteria for the award.  Being one of only 10 award recipients makes me proud of my department, my staff and the entire team from Alamance County as well as the cooperation and funding from the State.”

This year’s winning teams will be recognized at a gala reception and award
ceremony taking place on Oct. 14, at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Vieanna, Va.

Other winners include:

Navy Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command

FEMA Risk Analysis Division

Internal Revenue Service

Office of the CIO, New York City Department of Transportation

USAF Air Mobility Command

Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services

NIST Computer Security & Intelligent Systems

Navy Sea Systems Command

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

Navigators: Volunteers Guide Abuse Victims Through Confusion, Intimidation of Court

By Michael D. Abernethy, Times News | Published: Tuesday, May 27, 2014 at 4:26 PM.

Until a few years ago, Anna had almost no experience with the court system. It wasn’t until a family member’s less-than-amicable divorce that she realized how intimidating the courtroom and the legal system could be.

Now she’s in the courtroom almost every week, guiding others through domestic civil and criminal court as a volunteer with Alamance County Family Abuse Services’ Court Navigator Program. The program trains and pairs volunteers with men and women seeking protective orders against abusive spouses, family members and exes.

“No one deserves to have someone else putting them down, abusing them physically, mentally, emotionally or in any way,” Anna said. “But when you’re already put down, then you have to walk into that court system, it’s very intimidating. So, that’s what we do. We help them navigate the system. … We just let them understand they have choices and give them moral support.”

ANNA — WHO agreed to speak on a condition that we not use her last name, to protect her from possible retaliation by her clients’ abusers — was one of the program’s first volunteers, in the fall of 2012. She’d recently retired from a career in the ministry and was looking for an opportunity to help people.

Since then, she’s worked with nearly 30 clients and had her eyes opened to the pervasiveness of domestic abuse.

“It’s so much worse than I ever thought it was. It crosses all the lines: age, sex, socioeconomic status. I’ve had clients from every walk of life — male and female, the young and the not-so-young,” Anna said. “I feel like I’m probably doing more to connect the church and the world than I’ve ever done in the church. … I think it’s one of the most worthwhile things I’ve ever been a part of.”

The program and its training are unique to Alamance County, though some other court districts have similar volunteers, said Lynn Rousseau, Family Abuse Services director. Rousseau and Family Justice Center Executive Director Cindy Brady developed the program in 2011 to support clients who came to their agencies for help but feared the court process.

Rousseau and Brady watched domestic court actions and felt too many cases were being dismissed because abuse victims were afraid to come to court alone. Without hearing their complaints and testimony, judges were forced to dismiss the cases — leaving them without legal recourse and protection.

“Defendants were coming in with witnesses and numerous people to support them. Victims were by themselves most of the time,” Rousseau said. “We routinely saw victims dismissing their cases or leaving at lunch and not coming back,” causing their cases to be dismissed.

NOW, EVERYONE who applies for a 50B domestic order at the Family Justice Center is given the phone number of a volunteer and the option of having someone to walk through the court process with.

What the program and its volunteers don’t do is provide legal advice or tell clients what they should do, program director Bethany Sanford says.

During several days of training this spring, Sanford worked with a group of new volunteers, teaching them about different types of abuse and the tenet that clients must make their own decisions about their cases. Sometimes that will mean watching a client dismiss a case to return to an abusive relationship, Sanford told them.

“That’s their choice to make. And you don’t know, they might leave later. At least they started, and they know there is help available to them when they are ready to leave,” Sanford told them.

There are more than 20 active volunteers in the program. All of them have gone through about 12 hours of training, which includes learning how the court system works and observing a day of domestic violence court.

Volunteers aren’t asked to provide transportation, housing or financial support to victims.

“Their only responsibilities are to make contact with clients, meet with them on court dates, and provide emotional support,” Sanford said.

The program is entering its third year, and Family Abuse Services was recently approved for a grant to fund the program for two more years.

For more information about the program, contact Sanford at 336-229-2283 or email her at bsanford@familyabuseservices.org.


International Delegation Visits the Family Justice Center

Family Justice Center of Alamance County May 2014


From left to right: Salma Mohmed Kier-Sudan, Adi Blutner-Israel, Banwabi Haoua Hetie-Burkina Faso, Cary Crawford-Family Abuse Services, Fadiah Nadwa Fikri-Malaysia, Sarah Kerwegi-Uganda, Cindy Brady-Family Justice Center, Anna Nikoghosy An-Armenia

Burlington, NC – Most ideas are not original and programs are often developed based on successful initiatives from other communities. A group of international visitors from six countries took this concept to another level by traveling halfway around the world to learn more about the domestic violence programs offered in the United States.

The Family Justice Center of Alamance County hosted six women from Armenia, Burkina Faso, Israel, Malaysia, Sudan, and Uganda who are visiting the United States as part of the US Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP).  This program was created to:

  • Promote an appreciation for the rule of law and fair, transparent, accessible and independent judiciaries around the world;
  • Recognize and address the global problem of violence against women and women’s lack of access to justice; 
  • Create linkages among professionals in the legal field working to promote international cooperation in strengthening women’s access to justice.

This year’s theme is Women and Justice.

The delegation, whose countries have varying levels of response to domestic violence, came to Alamance County to tour the Family Justice Center, observe the Electronic Protective Order System and learn about domestic violence programs offered in Alamance County. Cindy Brady, Director of the Family Justice Center, Susan Osborne, Director of the Department of Social Services, Cary Crawford, Family Abuse Services Community Educator, Bethany Sanford, Program Supervisor for the Volunteer Court Navigator Program and Chief District Court Judge Jim Roberson answered a variety of questions related to domestic violence services in our community.

In addition to Alamance County, IVLP participants had visited Washington, DC, New York, New York, and Raleigh, NC, and were headed for Reno, NV and San Francisco, CA.

How the Electronic Protective Order System Works

By Times- News Published: Saturday, February 8, 2014 at 12:39 PM.

Faster and easier 

Using a computer, webcam and video phone, Alamance County’s electronic protective order system shrinks a time-consuming process down to several simple steps. The system, in place since June, cuts what used to take an entire day down to about two hours.

State and county employees estimate that the new system saves as much as 10 employee hours per application.

Traditional domestic violence protective order

  1. Report to Family Justice Center. Fill out five or more legal documents by hand, including complaint and motion for domestic violence protective order, notice of hearing on domestic violence protective order, ex parte domestic violence protective order, civil summons domestic violence, and identifying information about defendant/domestic violence actions.
  2. Submit documents to the Alamance County Clerk of Court in the Alamance County Historic Courthouse.
  3. Take copies of documents down the street to a District Court judge. Wait in courtroom for judge to become available to hear the motion for protective order.
  4. If a judge grants the restraining order, return to the clerk of court’s office to file paperwork for service through the sheriff’s department. This is the step many applicants forgot, leaving their protective orders unserved.

Electronic protective order system

  1. Go to the Family Justice Center and complete paperwork.
  2. Electronically confer with clerk of court and District Court judge at 11 a.m. or 3 p.m. each day.
  3. Judge-approved orders are automatically filed with the clerk’s office and sheriff’s department.

Judge Jim Roberson Honored For Work With Electronic Protective Order System

Family Justice Center of Alamance County  | November 2013

Burlington, NC – Judge Jim Roberson was honored on November 20th at the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence Annual Banquet. The Men for Change Award honors men who have made significant contributions to “end and prevent violence against women, children and families.” Judge Jim, as he is affectionately known, was recognized for his critical role in the implementation of a system that insures the safety of victims through the use of technology that allows the user to file for a temporary protective order while remaining at the Family Justice Center.

“The recently introduced Domestic Violence Electronic Protective Order System instituted in Alamance is one of the most dramatic advances in the handling of domestic violence cases in many years,” says Judge Jim Roberson, Chief District Court Judge for Judicial District 15A. “This has been a dream since 2004 and a long time in the making. We had an amazing team in Alamance County and, without them, this never would have been possible.”

Says Lynn Rousseau, Director of Family Abuse Services, “I have been at Family Abuse Services for a little over two years, but have worked for many years with domestic violence victims. I have never witnessed teamwork like we have in Alamance County. For many, developing this system was additional work. Yet everyone stayed devoted and did whatever it took to see it through.”

Launched on June 24, 2013, the Electronic Protective Order System allows victims to obtain an ex parte protective order from the safety of the Family Justice Center, whereas previously, someone seeking relief was required to navigate to four different sites to complete the process – Family Abuse Services, the Clerk of Court’s Office, the Judge’s Office, and the Sheriff’s Office.

Greg Paravis, from Alamance County MIS, commented, “This is how technology is supposed to work – invisibly.”

The ex-parte, or temporary protective order, process in Alamance County is now fully automated with the victim initiating the order at the Family Justice Center through an online program developed by the NC Administrative Office of the Courts. Upon completion, one click by the Family Abuse Services’ court advocate electronically sends the order to the Clerk of Court’s office where the plaintiff is sworn in via a video telephone and, with a click of the mouse, electronically files the complaint, sets a hearing date, issues an electronic summons and sends the draft order to the presiding judge for an ex parte hearing. Again, so that the victim can remain at the Family Justice Center, the judge conducts the hearing via a video conference and determines if the actions described warrant the temporary protective order.  If granted, the judge electronically signs the document and sends it back to the Clerk of Court’s office for filing and certification. The judge’s click also sends a copy of the order to the Family Justice Center where an advocate can print the order on the spot for the victim and to the Sheriff’s Department who has the equipment to print and serve the order onsite. Upon service, the victim is notified via email and/or a text message that the order has been served.

An additional value is officers, judges, magistrates and advocates ability to view the order at any time in order to assist the victim with enforcement.

In addition to safety for victims, this innovative technology improves the safety of officers who are now able to view the conditions included in an order, as well as a description of potential presence of firearms.

Judge Roberson added, “I cannot say enough positive things about the NC Administrative Office of the Courts (NCAOC) and their dedication to this project. They have worked with us every step of the way to guarantee that we had a product that was user friendly, efficient and effective. On the day of roll out, the NCAOC stationed technical help at every stakeholder’s location to address any problems that might arise. There was little to address – the system operated almost seamlessly and perfectly.”

Says Cindy Brady, Director of the Family Justice Center, “It was a proud moment for all of us, as we held our breath for the first order to go through. While it would have been inappropriate to applaud, we all silently cheered when the first order was completed and had been transmitted through all of the steps.

Periodic time studies conducted by Alamance County between February 2012 and April 2013 showed that one protective order, done manually, takes 12-15 hours.  The Alamance Electronic Protective Order System Logistics Team predicts that the new system will cut that time by at least half. Donna Harris, Assistant Clerk of Court and a key member of the team, declared, “There is so much paperwork involved with obtaining a protective order and a lot of preparation time required to create the documents for the ex parte and full hearings. With this new technology, the orders are online – all the judge has to do is review it and set the conditions for the permanent order and click a button.”

The Domestic Violence Electronic Protective Order System in Alamance County is the first in the state and one of the few in the nation.

One-stop site helps domestic violence victims

By Joe Gamm joe.gamm@news-record.com | Posted: Friday, September 27, 2013 11:21 pm

GREENSBORO — Laurrissa Armstrong was an educated woman. She was a longtime teacher with Guilford County Schools. But she didn’t know what information to provide to two judges to persuade either one to issue an emergency restraining order against her husband.

He shot her on Aug. 29 and she died Sept. 7, nine days later.

She might still be alive if Greensboro or Guilford County had a Family Justice Center, a one-stop place where victims of domestic violence can be guided through the process of obtaining a protective order and gain access to victims’ services.

Alamance County has such a facility and Guilford County leaders have often considered the benefits of one.

Lynn Rousseau, director of Family Abuse Services of Alamance County, said a victim’s advocate might have been able to help her with the paperwork.

“From reading the case — it sounds like — if there had been an advocate to explain, there probably was a series of (threatening) behaviors,” Rousseau said. “She could have explained to the judge that there was a valid basis for the order, but because no one had explained to her that that was one of the things she would have to prove, she may not have known what to say.”

In North Carolina, a person can obtain a protective order against another person in a domestic violence case who is:

  • Causing or attempting to cause bodily injury,
  • Committing rape or other sexual offenses,
  • Creating fear of imminent serious bodily injury or continued harassment.

In explaining why she turned down Armstrong’s request for a protective order, Judge Angela Foster told News & Record editors that Armstrong “did not meet the qualifications.”

A Quick Reaction

Unofficial records show the Guilford County Clerk of Courts office in Greensboro has processed more than 5,500 requests for protective orders since Jan. 1, 2010 — about 126 per month.

In Guilford, a potential victim can file for a restraining order at the clerk’s office and in many cases be heard by the judge the same day.

But waiting one day can be too long.

The Alamance County Family Justice Center provides a place where victims can file their complaint with the clerk’s office and go before a judge — all in the same building.

Officials in Greensboro and Guilford County have begun conversations about creating a site where victims of domestic violence can seek services — putting them in touch with Department of Social Services workers and helping them to get protective orders, find legal support and connect with court advocacy.

It is very early in coversations, said Greensboro police Deputy Chief Dwight Crotts.

“Part of the goal is that one-stop-shop type of location,” Crotts said. “There’s frustration if I have to go to this place and tell my story. Then from there, I get sent to another place and I have to tell my story and get sent to another place where I have to tell my story.”

A one-stop location is just what Alamance County offers, said Cindy Brady, director of the Alamance County Family Justice Center. “For safety reasons, that really was a key component for us,” Brady said. “The victim never has to leave the building and gets everything she needs.”

Brady emphasized that the center serves male and female victims of domestic violence.

When a victim enters the center, he or she is assigned an advocate. The advocate can walk the victim through the paperwork to obtain a protective order.

Working with the courts, Alamance County has begun a pilot program in which an advocate sits down with the victim and fills out the forms online. The court forms are automatically generated and submitted in PDF form to the court clerk, who electronically signs them and enters them in the courts.

The clerk sends the forms to a judge who holds a video conference with the victim to determine whether to approve or deny the request. One of the four District Court judges is available every business day from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for hearings on the ex parte’ (brought by one party and not requiring the others to be present) orders. The advocate remains in the room with the victim to help make the victim more comfortable, Rousseau said.

“I feel very confident we’re the first place in the U.S. that uses remote filing of the forms,” said Chief District Judge Jim Roberson.

Alamance County has even speeded up the process to serve the protective order. Once the order is approved, deputies within the Domestic Violence Unit can print the restraining orders in their cars, said Sgt. Marcus Orr with the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office.

“We used to have to drive across town to pick them up,” Orr said. “It’s much, much faster.”

Reducing the violence

Officials believe getting the protective orders issued and served quickly has reduced domestic violence in Alamance County.

In 2009, Alamance County had two domestic violence-related homicides. The county had one such homicide in 2010, the year the program began — and none since.

Armstrong’s death marked the ninth domestic violence-related homicide in Greensboro this year. Crotts said there are folks who are uncomfortable coming to police, and having a family justice center — where they might go without involving police — might have prevented some of those homicides.

“Whatever their reasons may be, family pressures, community pressures, whatever it is that they’re feeling that keeps them away from engaging assistance,” Crotts said. “Perhaps having a center such as this would give them a place that they can go to get those resources to help them beyond police involvement.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email