Orange County court officials in conjunction with Compass Center for Women and Families have launched a new eCourts Civil Domestic Violence System to provide a safer way for victims of domestic violence to get protective orders. Provided by the Judicial Branch’s Administrative Office of the Courts, the new system provides electronic filing for protective orders with the assistance of a domestic violence advocate, and the victim has total access to the district court community, including law enforcement, without the need to leave the safety of a secure remote location or compromise their privacy and confidentiality. Instead of multiple stops, the victim has one safe stop to seek protection.
“Domestic violence eFiling eliminates a hurdle for citizens by providing a more efficient and safe experience,” said Mark J. Kleinschmidt, clerk of superior court of Orange County. “The system helps the court be better stewards of the public and further reassures citizens that they have advocates supporting them through the process.”
According to Compass Center for Women and Families, eFiling has shown to increase victim safety while also reducing some of the barriers clients face while obtaining a domestic violence protection order. “These barriers include, but are not limited to, access to reliable transportation, childcare and time off from work,” said Compass Center Director Cordelia Heaney. “We are hopeful that reducing the influence of these barriers will increase client safety and enable each person to spend more time receiving comprehensive support from Compass Center advocates.”
“Domestic violence eFiling is more efficient for victims, law enforcement, and the courts, and it improves public safety and access to justice,” said McKinley Wooten, interim director of the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts. “The system follows in the Judicial Branch's vision for eCourts and modernizing court technology systems statewide.”
The domestic violence eFiling process starts and ends at a domestic violence service agency that is separate from the courthouse. The applicant files the petition, is heard by the judge, and receives signed orders and notification regarding service on the defendant all while they are in a secure, remote location. All matters are conducted electronically and through live video feeds with judges, clerks, and sheriff’s deputies, while the victim receives services from the domestic violence agency, such as safety planning, housing, and child care.
The eFiling system saves time and reduces the risk of physical harm to individuals seeking legal protection by eliminating the manual handling of paper filings to the courthouse. Judges can view documents and sign orders quickly and more efficiently. Local law enforcement can access the system and search service documents, forms, and orders online to facilitate faster service. The system will send automated email and text messages to alert the proper parties as specific events occur in the case.
“I had to go through this process before and it was so confusing,” stated a domestic violence victim and user of this new system. “Being able to stay in one place makes such a huge difference! It is nowhere near as scary for me and my kids.”
“The AOC staff has been wonderful with helping judges like me learn to use the eFiling system.” said Judge Joseph Buckner of Orange County. “This is going to improve safety for victims, efficiency for court employees and provide better communication and record access to law enforcement in ensuring the protection orders are enforced.”
In addition to Orange County, Alamance, Cumberland, Davidson, Durham, Forsyth, Guilford, Onslow, Rowan and Wake counties are fully operational with the domestic violence eFiling system. The award-winning system, started in Alamance County in 2013, is expanding with funding through a three-year grant from the United States Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women (OVW). Once implementation concludes in 2019, the system will be live in 16 counties and serve more than half of the state’s population.
In 2016, the N.C. Department of Public Safety reported 110 domestic violence homicides statewide, of which 73 were female and nearly 80 percent of the offenders were male. In fiscal year 2017-18, there were 32,715 domestic violence protective order filings statewide. During this same reporting period, the N.C. Council for Women reported 112,427 victim calls statewide for domestic violence service providers. According to the National Coalition of Domestic Violence, more than 20 people experience interpersonal violence every minute in this country, which equates to more than 10 million victims of violence yearly.