Thursday, June 16, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Melissa Saragosa volunteered in January to run a specialty court to deal with domestic violence. It is the court’s attempt to crack the cycle of abuse that can turn deadly.
As Steve Kanigher reported in Monday’s Las Vegas Sun, Nevada had the nation’s highest rate of women murdered by men in 2008, the last year figures are available. There were 38 women killed that year, and the Violence Policy Center, a nonprofit Washington advocacy group, said the per capita rate of female victims in Nevada was twice the national average.
“For courts to lower that statistic, we need to look at how we handle domestic violence,” Saragosa said. “Is there something we’re not doing that we should be doing to prevent repeat offenders?”
The domestic violence court is following other specialty courts, such as those that have focused on drugs and mental health. Those courts have been praised for not simply punishing offenders but working to prevent the behavior — and crimes — from happening again.
Supporters of the domestic violence court, which oversees cases in unincorporated portions of Clark County, say having a single judge review cases will build an expertise and help tailor sentences to individual offenders. In addition to referring offenders to domestic violence clinics, the judge can also consider specific behaviors to address and send them to counseling — including financial and substance abuse — and parenting classes.
“From what I read in the police reports, there are some common things in these cases, arguments over money, arguments over infidelity, or it may be related to drugs,” Saragosa said.
The court also offers a hotline for offenders to call if they have trouble following Saragosa’s instructions.
Prosecutors and domestic violence advocates are enthusiastic about the new court. Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto has long been a supporter of creating a domestic violence court. “By having a specialized court, you have a judge willing to work with the prosecutors and public defenders to assure that the batterer gets treatment and completes that treatment,” she said.
Clark County District Attorney David Roger also supports the court, saying it would make domestic violence crimes a priority and give consistency to the sentencing.
However, there are concerns about the court as well.
Although she supports the court, Sue Meuschke, executive director of the Nevada Network Against Domestic Violence, said she was concerned about whether one judge will be able to handle the caseload. She also said she hoped that other courts won’t ignore domestic violence as a contributing factor to other crimes because of the specialty court.
Clark County Public Defender Phil Kohn, whose office represents criminal defendants who can’t afford a lawyer, said he didn’t think the court was working and didn’t see a purpose for it. He said the caseload was too big for a single judge, adding that there are “too many cases that everyone is trying to go through too fast.”
The concern about whether the court is working is fair as is concern about domestic violence cases getting the proper attention. The new court should be regularly evaluated to make sure it is effective. Domestic violence is a horrific crime, and this court holds great potential for curbing repeated offenses. We hope it succeeds.