Court Watch has eye on Kane Co. domestic violence cases
About 40 volunteers met at the Kane County courthouse in St. Charles this week to begin training as judicial watchdogs.
The new group, which calls itself Fox Valley Court Watch, says it intends to monitor domestic violence cases to make sure victims' rights are protected - and abusers held accountable.
"We don't want the victim to feel victimized by the judicial system, too," said James Kintz of Geneva, a retired police officer who serves on Court Watch's board of directors. "We want to ensure the victim has somebody there on her side."
Kintz was one of six speakers at a daylong training session Tuesday to acquaint volunteers with domestic violence laws and the court process.
As a former domestic abuse investigator for the Kane County state's attorney's office, he said he's seen how destructive violence in the home can be.
"It's a learned behavior," Kintz said, adding that victims often falsely blame themselves and recant their statements out of fear. "It always gets me when men who batter women consider themselves victims. Victims don't provoke the violence."
Through Court Watch, volunteers plan to chart all activities in misdemeanor and felony domestic violence cases, with an eye toward identifying strengths and weaknesses in Kane County's judicial system.
Scheduling coordinator Roger Palmer of Batavia, who is also a board member, said the group hopes to have two representatives present in court for both the morning and afternoon calls starting in August.
He said findings, including conviction and sentencing trends, will be compiled in a report to 16th Judicial Circuit Chief Judge F. Keith Brown.
"We don't know what we're going to find," Palmer said. "We want to make that very emphatic to all members of the judicial system. We're not threatening anybody."
Brown said he supports the program, which is based on another court watch group that has had success in DeKalb County, also in the 16th Judicial Circuit.
"The fact that it's based on the DeKalb program is a good thing," he said. In DeKalb, "it's been a very positive experience. It's not just a negative critique."
About 1,500 misdemeanor domestic violence cases used to be prosecuted in Kane County every year, according to Assistant State's Attorney Jamie Mosser, who heads up the domestic violence unit. But that number started decreasing last June when cases involving strangulation became felonies in Illinois.
Since then, Mosser said, the number of felony cases prosecuted has doubled, from about 150 to 300, while misdemeanors dropped off. She said rough economic conditions can also factor into domestic abuse trends.
"Our goal is to not re-victimize the victim, but to get the victim to a better place," Mosser said.
Volunteers with Court Watch are asked to commit at least one morning or afternoon a month for six months. For more information on the program, visit foxvalleycourtwatch.org.