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Family Court left parents, children hanging during virus pandemic

I read the article written by Metropolitan Court Judge Maria I. Dominguez in the Journal on June 5. She assured the public Metropolitan Court did not close because of COVID-19.

This was my experience at District Court as a judicial officer. I presided over hearings for domestic violence orders of protection, also known as restraining orders, for 10 years. On April 2, I was terminated with little to no explanation. However, my position was at-will.

There are four Family Court judges at District Court. Presiding Judge Debra Ramirez, Judge Gerard Lavelle, Judge Jane Levy and Judge Amber Chavez Baker.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I and the other two domestic violence hearing officers had hearings scheduled nearly every day, as did the Family Court judges.

When COVID happened, our schedules changed dramatically. We teleworked from home some weeks, and other weeks we worked at the court. Because of the way our schedules were set, a backlog of cases in the Domestic Violence Division was created. People requesting orders of protection had to wait longer for their cases to be heard. What this meant was that victims of domestic violence and their children were left in vulnerable, abusive situations longer.

Judge Ramirez sent an email to the three domestic violence hearing officers in the fall of 2020 which stated the Family Court judges could not be expected to help us clear the backlog of domestic violence cases because they had their own cases to address.

However, after an Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) request, I was able to obtain the numbers of scheduled hearings for me and the Family Court judges.

From April 1, 2020, to April 2, 2021, I had 1,321 hearings scheduled on my docket. Judge Lavelle had 1,039, Judge Levy had 667, Judge Chavez-Baker had 543 and Judge Ramirez had 504. And yet they did not have time to help the people requesting orders of protection?

And what about the cases assigned to them?

The four judges were on a rotation where two would work at the court, and the other two would work from home. The judges adjudicate important issues such as divorces, child custody and child support. However, when they were working at home, they had very few hearings scheduled, and some weeks they had no hearings scheduled at all. How long should the parties, their attorneys and, more importantly, the children have to wait to get their “day in court”?

Like Metropolitan Court, we were not closed. But I believe that the judges took advantage of COVID-19 to reduce their workload. …

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