Change wanted in domestic violence court cases

By Greg Miller
STAR Staff

   ERWIN -- The director of Change is Possible (CHIP's), a program designed to assist those who are victims of domestic abuse in Unicoi, Carter, and Greene counties, wants to see change in at least one aspect of the court process for those victims.
   Jean LaCoss says she believes all domestic violence court cases need to be heard before other cases so that women don't sit in a courtroom an entire day, terrified, with their alleged abusers sitting near them.
   "They can feel them. They can hear them. We have had clients whose abuser would be behind us threatening them while we're sitting in the courtroom. We're putting these women in a terrorizing situation. This is the system that's supposed to be helping them," LaCoss said.
   Darlene Williams, Court Advocate for domestic violence clients, is able to intervene more on behalf of clients in Unicoi County than she can in either Carter or Greene counties.
   "Darlene has more input in the judicial system here in Unicoi County than we do in Carter and Greene. Unicoi County is very receptive to Darlene's input into a lady's situation going through an Order of Protection, and we don't have that in Carter and Greene counties," LaCoss stated.
   In Unicoi County, the sheriff's department calls CHIPs with tips and assistance, as does the emergency room at Unicoi Memorial Hospital.
   "I've never had a call from Greene County, whether the sheriff's department or the hospital, and I've only gotten one call from Carter County. That was because Shepherd's Inn was full," said LaCoss.
   Williams says she is very involved in client cases.
   "I go with the ladies to court to get an order of protection," she said. "I actually stand in front of the judge with them. I talk to the judge if there is something they forget to tell the judge, or I explain the situation," said Williams.
   "Sometimes by the time they get in front of the judge, the women are so scared they don't know what to say, so I tell the judge what they need and what has happened," she said.
   Most of Williams' court appearances are in Unicoi County. Williams meets with clients several times before the cases go to court.
   "We know exactly what their situation is. We know where they've been and what they need. We know pretty much about the whole situation, unless there's something they fail to tell us."
   LaCoss said Williams explains to the clients the litigation process, informing them what questions the judge might ask and what their options are.
   "Because there are only three full-time employees, we all have to multi-task," said LaCoss. "We all go to court. We all take care of clients at the shelter. We all do referrals."