The COVID-19 pandemic has created a lot of changes in all aspects of our lives, including the way our participants experience going to court to get protection from the person who caused them harm. At Family Courts across the state these days, COVID safety-related rules change frequently, and often without personal notification being given to individual survivors, as courts and judges attempt to adapt to the ever-changing pandemic situation.
That is where WTLC’s Legal Advocates come in to help. We understand that survivors may not have access to the information or technology needed to stay up to date with current court policies and procedures. And sometimes it is just too overwhelming to research and try to figure things out by yourself.
Our Legal Advocates are here to provide practical and emotional support to survivors as they navigate the often challenging and frequently changing reality of going to court during the COVID pandemic. Rules can be different from courtroom to courtroom. It is important to understand that in California, Judges have a lot of discretion to set the policies and procedures in their own courtrooms and that policies regarding COVID safety protocols are no exception.
Therefore, we can have 3 participants, each with a DV Restraining Order case in front of a different judge, and each participant would have a slightly different set of rules that they must follow when planning for their day in court.
Some examples include:
Each of these individual court policies provides different challenges to survivors. For example, Marnie had a hearing for a DV Restraining Order set before a judge who only allows remote hearings. Typically, in-person hearings allow survivors to bring evidence of their abuse on the day of their hearing to present to the other party and the judge. However, for this remote hearing, the judge required all evidence that Marnie wanted to present at court to be emailed to the person who caused her harm before the date of the court hearing. Marnie was terrified of not only having to email the person who had caused her harm – he did not know her email address and she wanted to keep it that way – but also of how he would react if she sent him sensitive evidence showing graphic images and videos of her abuse. Fortunately, Marnie’s Legal Advocate listened to her fears and helped her contact the judge’s clerk to explain her safety concerns.
After this conversation with the court clerk, Marnie was able to show up to the remote hearing and explain her concerns to the judge, who allowed her to email her evidence to the court clerk the day of the hearing. The clerk then emailed the photos and videos to the other party without disclosing Marnie’s email address. On that same day, the judge granted Marnie a 5-year permanent DV Restraining Order against the person who had caused her harm. Marnie felt safe and protected, and she told her Legal Advocate that she could not have done it without their help.
Another common example is a survivor who is required to attend a remote hearing but does not have a safe and private location to attend the hearing. Or they might have the space, but no access to a computer or reliable internet. Or they might not know how to create a Microsoft Teams or Zoom account. There are many issues that can create barriers for survivors trying to navigate the court system. That is why we are here. We can provide all the technological assistance plus one of our safe and private rooms for the survivor to attend their court hearing.
So if you or someone you know are a survivor of domestic violence who is feeling stressed or overwhelmed about an upcoming court date, please reach out to our Helpline at 877-531-5522 to start a legal referral to our Legal Advocacy department. We will get an Advocate in touch to help provide support throughout the process.