After months of back-and-forth between Jefferson District and Family courts over which would take on the additional workload of a new court to protect dating couples from an abusive partner, Kentucky Chief Justice John Minton Jr. stepped in and said district court will take on the new cases — at least for a while.
The new protective orders expand coverage to dating couples and those who report being stalked after the law goes into effect Jan. 1.
Current Kentucky law limits emergency protective orders to married couples, those who live together or have a child in common, leaving vulnerable those who don't meet that criteria but are still experiencing abuse.
Such protective orders restrict communication between the parties and include a maximum 500-foot physical separation requirement.
Chief District Court Judge David Holton expressed concern over the summer about implementing the new protective orders in a court that he said is already resource-strapped and brimming with cases.
Chief Family Court Judge Paula Sherlock also said resources are tight in her court, and while the idea of expanding protective orders is a wonderful one, family court isn't the appropriate venue as dating couples aren't families.
The two, however, will be working together to get the new Interpersonal Protective Order cases processed.
Jefferson District Court Judge David Bowles will handle those requests on Mondays and Thursdays, and some of his work has been shifted to other judges, Holton said.
And at the request of the district court, case specialists from Family Court will be drafted to work on the new docket.
The two courts will work together reviewing requests for the orders, as is currently the procedure with Emergency Protective Orders, or EPOs. Family Court judges will review requests for the Interpersonal Protective Order, or IPOs, during the day, while District Court judges will review them at night.
In his decision letter, Minton stated the arrangement is a "reasonable approach" to creating a new IPO process, which will continue for at least a six-month trial period.
During that time, the court will study the case volume and its impact on district court dockets "to determine what, if any, additional resources may be needed to aid in processing these cases."
As the law is brand new, it's not clear how many cases will come through the court.
"We stand ready to have additional dockets if the volume of the cases is sufficient to warrant that," Holton said.
The Kentucky General Assembly in March mandated the expansion of civil emergency protections as a deterrent for alleged perpetrators from committing future acts of violence against a romantic partner.
The legislation granted both district and family courts the power to oversee such cases, leading to the debate over which court was most fit to handle them in Jefferson County.
The new law was designed to give those people — often young couples or college students who aren't living together, married or share a child — the ability to get a quick protective order.
Current policy has allowed for those in abusive domestic and dating relationships to seek criminal charges and an arrest warrant, though judges and policy experts agree that process often moves slower than the EPO process.
The new state law gives 24-hour access to the Interpersonal Protective Orders and instructs police to provide information about the IPOs to those they think might qualify.
Sherlock noted this summer the IPOs can act as an early intervention in volatile relationships, potentially stemming off future abuse and contact with the police and court system.
AT A GLANCE
• Emergency Protective Orders — and come January 1, Interpersonal Protective Orders — are available at the Domestic Violence Intake Center, located in the Hall of Justice, 600 W. Jefferson St. The Center For Women and Families offers help for those in abusive relationships in both Indiana and Kentucky. Its 24-hour crisis line is 844-BE-SAFE-1.
• The new law was designed to give those people — often young couples or college students who aren't living together, married or share a child — the ability to get a quick protective order.
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