With one year of the Domestic Violence Court pilot project under his belt, Judge Mike Kelly told a gathering of attorneys that he is encouraged by the improvements to the system.
"This program brings the key players together," he said at a panel discussion Thursday. "What we were doing was not working. We have to take a different, measured and more serious approach."
Kelly now oversees that domestic violence court, with help from designated magistrate Julie Yeager. And there is more continuity and better communication, plus enforcement of laws, he said.
"And one of the biggest things is compliance monitoring," the judge said. "We bring them in here and keep track of whether they are following the rules."
Previously, domestic violence cases could have ended up before any of 10 magistrates or any of five family court judges and handled by any of the county's assistant prosecutors.
Judges facing a defendant didn't always know about prior charges or domestic history because of a lack of communication and continuity within the justice system.
Frequently, charges were dropped when victims failed to appear or chose not to prosecute. And that, Kelly said, often spells trouble. Sometimes, it results in deaths.
Kelly said the "Taco Bell" murder case involving Nalisha Gravely and the Interstate death case of young Jahlil Clements helped propel the domestic violence court pilot project.
"In the Taco Bell case, the guy had six prior domestic battery cases against him and he violated a protective order earlier that day and was let go," Kelly said.
He said the system also failed to stop Ethan Chic-Colbert, because he had eight felony charges against him before the domestic incident that led to Clements' death on the highway. The Supreme Court just recently upheld Chic-Colbert's conviction and he is serving a prison sentence of up to 30 years.
Now, Kelly said all parties are striving to keep better files on domestic cases, whether victims want to proceed against their attackers or not.
Assistant Prosecutor Erica Lord, who helped develop and helps supervise the Domestic Violence Court, said the program is a great success so far.
"The number of cases that were dismissed before was embarrassing," Lord said. "That's not the case now."