Avon Global Center for Women and Justice at Cornell Law School
Lessons Learned from the Integrated Domestic Violence Court of New York: Interview with Tompkins County Judge John C. Rowley

Tompkins County Judge John C. Rowley presides over an Integrated Domestic Violence Court (IDV Court) in Ithaca, New York. New York State's IDV courts, established in 2003, are designed to better serve families that are experiencing domestic violence. Judge Rowley recently shared with the Avon Global Center some insights from his experiences as a judge on this innovative court.

Q: You serve on the Tompkins County Integrated Domestic Violence Court. What sparked your interest in and concern for domestic violence issues?

A: As a judge handling Family Court and Criminal Court cases, I was routinely required to adjudicate matters involving domestic violence. These are difficult cases with different dynamics than other cases. I think my commitment to learning more about these dynamics and receiving training on best practices arose out of my professional desire to be more effective in responding to these challenges.

Q: How did New York State's Integrated Domestic Violence Courts system come to be established, and what challenges does it seek to address?

Dedicated to the "one family - one judge" model, IDV Courts respond to a historic problem in the court system, which requires domestic violence victims and their families to appear in different courts before multiple judges, often located in different parts of a county, to address their legal issues. By connecting one judge with one family, IDV Courts aim to provide more informed judicial decision-making and greater consistency in court orders, while reducing the number of court appearances. In addition, these courts offer enhanced services to victims and help to ensure offender accountability.

Q: What are the key features of the Tompkins County Integrated Domestic Violence Court?

A: Some key features include:

  • informed judicial decision-making based on comprehensive and current information on multiple matters involving the family;
  • consistent handling of multiple matters relating to the same family by a single presiding judge;efficient use of court resources, with reduced numbers of trips to court and speedier dispositions;
  • linkage to social services and other resources to address comprehensively the needs of family members;
  • promotion of victim safety through elimination of conflicting orders and decisions;
  • increased confidence in the court system by reducing inefficiency for litigants and by eliminating conflicting orders; and
  • coordinated community response and collaboration among criminal justice and child welfare agencies and community-based groups offering social services and assistance to domestic violence victims and their children.

Q: How many judges serve on the Tompkins County Integrated Domestic Violence Court and how many cases do they typically handle?

A: In Tompkins County, we divide the IDVC caseload between two judges. Presently, we are seeing about 200 family cases a year in total, 80 criminal cases, and over 210 compliance appearances.

Q: What type of specialized training, if any, do judges and staff members of the Integrated Domestic Violence Court receive?

A: Training and education for judges and non-judicial personnel in the IDV Courts is an integral part of the Court's ability to handle related family matters in a consistent and comprehensive manner. Intensive domestic violence training, as well as training in legal and operational issues arising in IDV Courts, is provided to the judges and court staff in order to keep all personnel abreast of the latest research and best practices in the field. The training and education process is ongoing.