A compromise appears to have settled the ugly squabble between the District Attorney’s Office and advocates of the county Domestic Violence Court.
The hope is that concerns leveled by District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III have been satisfied following his announcement that he will resume prosecuting misdemeanor domestic violence cases in the county’s Integrated Domestic Violence Court.
Sedita, who had previously called the Integrated Domestic Violence Court “a failed experiment” and refused to prosecute misdemeanors sent to that court since late August, has changed his tune.
The district attorney had criticized the court for having a high dismissal/acquittal rate, for lacking professional case evaluation and screening and for allowing cases to be used as leverage in civil litigation settlements while prosecutors were kept waiting unnecessarily.
The agreement eliminates the need for a special prosecutor – which is exactly what State Supreme Court Justice Deborah A. Haendiges called for earlier this month to handle the misdemeanor assault cases that came before the court. In turn, Sedita filed a legal challenge to her authority to assign a special prosecutor to handle the misdemeanor cases.
It wasn’t until the compromise reached with Chief Judge Judy Harris Kluger, in less than an hour according to Sedita, that this fierce battle finally came to an end. Haendiges vacated her order to appoint a special prosecutor, and Sedita withdrew his legal challenge.
According to Sedita, as part of the compromise all criminal cases before the IDV Court will be separated from the civil cases and will take priority over all other cases. That will streamline the judicial process while, according to Suzanne Tomkins, a University at Buffalo Law School professor and co-founder of the Clinic for Women, Children and Social Justice, preserving the integrity of the IDV Court.
As this page has said, the debate between the district attorney and judicial administrators and Domestic Violence Court advocates offered an opportunity for discussion and improvement of the system.
It is always troubling when someone in Sedita’s position expresses such fundamental criticism of a system he is charged with upholding. His blunt manner was not appreciated by those who are deeply committed to the mission of the court to provide a “one family, one judge” approach to cases that involve criminal, family, matrimonial and other related issues.
Although the Buffalo IDV Court was one of the first of more than 40 statewide and has been considered a success on several levels, the mechanics of how the system delivers justice has its flaws. It is exactly those shortcomings that can and should be worked on by both the District Attorney’s Office and the court.
There is a shared purpose in administering justice equitably, professionally and efficiently. There are signs that this recent agreement will improve efforts toward that goal, which can only benefit the victims of domestic violence and their families.