Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Best of Blackwell


It was with a bit of melancholy that I monitored Judge Alice Blackwell's injunction hearings this afternoon. At the end of each year, a bit of judge-shuffling is done and Judge Blackwell will be moved from her position as Administrative Judge for the Domestic Court to the felony Violation of Probation division in January.

I first became acquainted with Judge Blackwell in 2006 when she and Dick Batchelor co-chaired the Orange County Domestic Violence Commission's Implementation Group. Her leadership and passion for victims of domestic violence, and for making the injunction court more effective and compassionate in its handling of DV cases, was pivotal to the creation of the much-improved injunction court that Orange County has today.

Prior to the creation of this specialized court in 2007, seven judges would serve one week out every seven as they rotated through the division. Injunction hearings were held in a large, impersonal courtroom on the 4th floor where petitioners would sit on one side of the aisle and respondents the other. It was not uncommon for petitioners and respondents to encounter one another in the halls outside the courtroom, in spite of Harbor House's best efforts to escort petitioners to court.

As one who obtained an injunction in this enviroment several years ago, I can tell you that the process was both terrifying and embarrassing. There could be 2-3 dozen spectators waiting for their own hearings while they watched yours. Nobody wants to have their personal business aired for all to know - particularly when it relates to their intimate relationship.

With the help of Judge Blackwell's leadership on the Commission, Orange County now has a model Injunction Court that other jurisdictions have come to observe. There are separate waiting rooms for the parties and smaller, more intimate courtroom where only the participants involved are present.

Three judges rotate the three main functions. On any given day, 50-75 people file petitions for an injunction in Orange County. A "signing" judge reads those petitions during the day and if they grant a hearing and temporary injunction, they will be the judge to conduct the "return" hearing when it comes to court two weeks later. Their third week is spent doing follow-up hearings (hearing allegations of injunction violations, assuring that respondents have complied with court orders, etc.) and handling any overflow from the "return" hearings.

Because she is so good at what she does, CourtWatch has used Judge Blackwell as the benchmark for all the other injunction judges we monitor. From setting the stage for each hearing (providing the participants with a thorough explanation of the "ground rules" relating to how the hearing will be conducted before it begins) to using excellent fact-finding questions to elicit relevant testimony, to addressing the pertinent concerns of time-sharing of children, the parents' financial obligations and other issues, and doing an excellent job of explaining her ruling, Judge Blackwell consistently scores Above Average to Superb with CourtWatch volunteers.

Her feathers rarely get ruffled and she treats everyone in her courtroom with dignity and respect. Her demeanor sets the tone for everyone in the courtroom, and in spite of the contentious nature of injunction hearings, the parties seem to be better behaved when she is on the bench.

Today was the sort of bittersweet experience for me that one has when you know you won't be seeing someone you respect and admire as often as you're accustomed to seeing them. We wish her well in her new assignment.

2 comments:

  1. Judge Blackwell is one of the best Judges I have ever seen; she is knowledgeable, patient and caring, yet firm when needed. I wish her the very best and will miss her on the injunction bench!

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  2. My wife and I had the misfortune of going before judge Blackwell in a homeowner association dispute. What a joke she was.She had already made her mind up before hearing our case.. She certainly didn't display any of the above mentioned qualities in our case. She couldn't judge a chili cook off.

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