Get Court Watchers to help you

Having other witnesses or even a large group show up to your court hearings can make all the difference. As you know the vermin who commit these crimes and abuse all hide behind fake images of “Protector” but rarely to never see the actual victims nor do they help them besides creating legal fees

What are court watchers?
Unlike individuals who go to court as witnesses, victims, defendants or jurors, court watchers do not have a personal stake in the outcome of a case; instead, they go to court to observe proceedings and to assess whether courts are serving their communities fairly.

What is the difference between probate and circuit court?
The Circuit Court has jurisdiction over estate, mental health, and juvenile matters. The court allows jury trials. California does not have a separate probate court. The Superior Court has jurisdiction over estate, mental health, and juvenile matters.

Why I’m A Court Watcher (You Should Try It, Too)

Court Watch focuses on the judges
Consider the judges who are suspected (1) of sending so many auto burglars (and other criminals) back out on the streets while awaiting trial and/or (2) of being far too lenient in sentencing them. Court Watch populates courtrooms with community members whose mere presence tells the judge that the community will not tolerate their issuing so many “get-out-of-jail-free” cards or their imposing light punishments for these crimes. The Assistant District Attorney (ADA) signals to the judge that community members will be or are in the courtroom for a defendant’s hearing, and judges now know why we are there.

So, instead of my whining about too-lenient judges, Court Watch gives me opportunities to “complain to someone who can do something” about trying to deter criminals from burglarizing vehicles. To me, my presence in courtrooms is a way of vividly but tacitly complaining to judges that they haven’t been tough enough on these criminals.

My experience with Court Watch
I am a new Court Watcher, but at least twice so far, we have had success. The first time I volunteered, four of us were ready to show up in the courtroom. But before the hearing and in the judge’s chambers the ADA told the judge, and the defendant’s attorney, that four members of the community would be present to watch what the judge does with the defendant. Merely giving that notice to the judge and the defense attorney produced a positive result: the plea/offer discussion immediately increased from one year to two years’ incarceration; the hearing was continued to a new date; and we did not have to show up in the courtroom.

My second successful Court Watch was at a hearing for a 20-year career criminal who has a drug problem and wanted Judge Jeffrey Ross to give him another chance to stay out of prison. Judge Ross had initially deferred prison and allowed him to enter a drug rehab program, with the requirement that if he didn’t like that particular program, he had to call either his attorney or his probation officer to get into another program. But he did neither when he left the program after a just few days.  He was finally found and arrested over a month later.

For the hearing we attended Judge Ross had to decide whether to give this defendant another chance at drug rehab, or to sentence him to six years in prison. After arguments by the ADA and defense attorney, we listened to Judge Ross impose a six-year prison sentence.

Bonus after the hearing: Judge Ross came off the bench, introduced himself to us, and explained to us why he makes decisions like the one he had just made — he has to be firmly convinced that the defendant has a realistic chance of succeeding in whatever the judge sentences him to, if it’s not jail or prison. The judge clearly knew why we were there. Join COURT WATCH

Introduction to Court Watching
Court watch ProgramsThe Crime Report

More Support Documents

Article below from:

by Braulio Salcedo with Michelle VanNatta
January 2018 · Survived and Punished · ·

Courtwatching can be a powerful tool to gather information and evidence about how legal outcomes emerge. The project can help identify patterns, policies, practices, offices, and individuals that are contributing to harm. Courtwatch data can be an important springboard for activist efforts, forming a basis for demands for change that can be shared through public events, reports, press releases, protests, letter-writing, electoral campaigns, or teach-ins.
This document gives a basic outline for how to start your own courtwatch focusing on issues of criminalization of survivors of violence or other community issues. The second half of the document includes a compendium of resources readily available online as of late 2017, including more extensive guides for starting a courtwatch and examples of existing court monitoring projects. The projects included come from a range of political perspectives and approaches, and can be useful as models for volunteer application forms, scheduling processes, mission and philosophy statements, guides for courtroom behavior, reports and dissemination of collected information, glossaries of legal terms, and data collection forms.

A helpful starting point may be to review the Toolkit for Systems Advocacy for Victims of Battery Charged with Crimes from the National Coalition for Defense of Battered Women which came out in December 2016. It can be found at This 147 page document provides extensive analysis and suggestions for addressing criminalization of survivors through broad-based advocacy. The organization also provides annotated links about issues important for criminalized survivors at Starting Your Own Court Monitoring Project 2


1. Consider capacity. Determine whether you organization
needs to recruit volunteers if there are enough people with the
scheduling flexibility to observe court sessions, usually held
between 9 am and 3 pm Monday through Friday over weeks,
months, or longer.

2. Clarify goals and consider potential end products. What
concrete changes do you wish to make? Who are you trying to
reach? What data are needed? What do you plan to do with the

3. Collect some initial information. Talk to survivors, programs
that serve criminalized people and targeted communities,
programs that serve survivors, attorneys and activists who
work on criminalization and violence. Start to identify patterns,
policies, and problems and ask for feedback in developing an
initial courtwatch form.

5. Establish how much data you need to draw conclusions.
Consider whether you would like to develop an ongoing program
to hold the courts accountable to the community or if you want
to develop a more limited program to gather information over a
specific time period to address a particular issue.

6. Consider what you will do with your data – will you write
a report? Hold a public forum? Create a presentation for
community groups? Issue a press release? Submit a memo to the
court? Draft specific policy recommendations? Propose a training
for attorneys, court personnel, judges? Reach out to community
organizations to start an educational or social change campaign?
Contact public officials? Develop trainings or create an action
plan in coalition with other community groups? Who will take the
lead on creation of the report or action plan? Consider creating
an executive summary or one pager of main recommendations
and along with a more detailed report/set of requests. Make
specific requests for changes as well as broader critiques.

7. Will you need other types of information besides court
observation? For example, will it help to interview people about
their experiences or review recent published court outcomes?

8. Consider contacting court officials about your project. Some
courthouses will have coordinators and many are accustomed
to accommodating courtwatch volunteers from a range of
organizations. Other courts may technically be open to the
public, but may be difficult to access. Some court personnel may
have not encountered public observers and could be hostile
or confrontational. Try to locate other courtwatch groups who
may go to the same courts and consult with them, and consider
communicating with official personnel to let them know your
plans. If your group prefers to fly under the radar, consider how
to handle inquiries from court personnel and others, as well as
how to take notes without attracting attention.

9. Consult with an attorney if possible about rights to
observe and any risks volunteers may be taking. Consider
that volunteers with conviction histories or arrest warrants,
immigration status issues, and issues with official identifications
around factors such as gender identity may face specific risks
in entering criminal legal system spaces, especially with courts
that may ask for government issued photo IDs. Prepare
volunteers for any risks that they may face and consider having
a range of ways that volunteers can contribute to the project
in case some individuals may prefer to serve functions other
than court observation.

10. Recruit volunteers as needed. It might be useful to consider
developing an internship or service learning opportunity
for students from nearby universities. Many schools have
coordinators you can contact and may help advertise your
project and share your volunteer application. The resource
section of this document includes examples of volunteer
recruitment and application materials.

11. Create forms for data collection, considering that court may
move quickly, may include a great deal of jargon that is hard to
understand, and may be difficult to hear. Use check boxes when
possible, but be sure to include some open ended questions so
that courtwatchers can include information and observations
that were not anticipated in the initial development of questions.
12. Consider how to handle handwritten forms that are
challenging to read. It may be useful to ask volunteers to
take notes by hand and then type information into forms
before submitting it. Develop a plan for how and when forms
will be submitted.

13. Consider developing some type of debriefing or support
process for volunteers who are distressed or triggered by what
they see in court, which could include highly traumatic and
discriminatory events. Starting Your Own Court Monitoring Project 5

14. Hold a training for volunteers. Incorporate information on
getting back and forth to court, how to handle last minute
cancellations, requirements for entering court, requirements
for dress and demeanor, what to expect in entering court. Some
courthouses will have screening on entry that can target people
of color entering the building and cause significant stress. Be
aware of what volunteers may confront upon arrival. Include
a mock court session if possible, going over what volunteers
may expect and explaining particular specialized language or
acronyms that might be used. Distribute forms and model how
to fill them out. Warn courtwatchers about potential risks they
could encounter at court, knowing some watching may have
criminal records or immigration status issues or be targeted
for mistreatment by sheriffs, police, and other court personnel
based on race or ethnicity or gender presentation. Members of
the public could be arrested out of a courtroom if they violate
a policy or are perceived as threatening or uncooperative; be
certain volunteers are prepared and informed.

15. It may be valuable to encourage people to go in pairs or
small groups, and this will help with verifying reliability of data
collection. At the same time, consider the emotional impact
defendants, survivors, and family members may face from
having observers, especially in larger numbers. Also, consider
the size of courtrooms at your target location; some courtrooms
may be too small to accommodate many observers.

16. Have a coordinator available by email or phone to
troubleshoot if at all possible.
17. Make data collection/submission easy. Can volunteers take
pictures of completed forms and email from a cellphone? Is
there a monthly meeting where everyone brings forms? Can
addressed and stamped envelopes be submitted for volunteers
to drop forms in the mail?

18. After a few of the initial courtwatch sessions, hold a
meeting or check in to tweak the process as needed.
Ask about what observers are noticing, get feedback about
improving courtwatch forms, take note of emerging issues, and
ask about problems individuals have encountered.

19. Review data periodically to look for unexpected patterns and
make adjustments to data collection processes.

20. Learn the backstory of your court – what training do judges
or attorneys have about intimate partner violence, actual
policing practices, available services, race, gender, immigration,
and trauma? Are there victim/witness personnel available? Are
domestic violence organizations represented at the courthouse
or do they have legal advocates who come to court? How
do those advocates handle cross complaints? How do they
determine if they will work with a particular defendant?

21. Some factors volunteers may watch for in court:
comments from judges, attorneys, sheriffs, and other court
personnel about gender, race, ethnicity, religion, and personal
characteristics of defendants and alleged victims in cases;
factors in determining whether a defendant is held in custody
or able to access bond; use of electronic monitoring or GPS;
child custody and visitation issues and histories of violence;
caseloads of public defenders or court appointed attorneys;
controlling images and stereotypes in, especially directed to
African American, Native American, Latinx communities, queer
communities, and trans*/gender non-conforming people; is
the event in question addressed as a single moment in time or
is any history elicited or presented which may show impact of
trauma or prior history of victimization or intimidation?

22. How are emotions of defendant and alleged victim
addressed in court? Is there an understanding of the impact
of trauma on memory and demeanor? Are there (false)
expectations for particular responses to trauma or danger, or
lack of understanding of what might feel threatening to a person
with a history of trauma? How is self-defense discussed?

23. How are histories of prior crimes and use of weapons
brought into cases?
24. Is it possible to compare how intimate partner violence
cases are handled with cases stranger violence cases? How
are public safety risk ratings and portrayals of seriousness
different between the two?

25. Orders of protection/restraining order – how are cross
complaints handled? Does the first person to file get the order?
Is there a process to determine?

26. Is history of violence, injury or abuse raised in cases? Do
defendants have the chance to meaningfully consult with an
attorney and does the attorney ask about domestic violence? Are
psychological evaluations performed and are services available
for those with trauma? What kinds of proof are referred to when
addressing histories of violence? Are people required to have
called police, sought medical attention or been at a shelter in
order for histories of violence to be considered legitimate?

27. How are parenting issues addressed – what kinds of standards
are mothers held to for protecting children from experiencing or
witnessing abuse by another adult? What standards are fathers
held to?

28. Do judges make comments about abuse being a “two way
street” or a “he said/she said” situation? How are same sex cases

29. Consider how community organizations and organizing
groups may work toward changes outside the court– for
example a push for diversion programs or alternatives to
criminal prosecution could be spurred by evidence that the
courts are sentencing people unfairly. Considerations 8

It is important that those contemplating court monitoring be aware of
current controversies in research and media around intimate partner
violence. Some research journals and mainstream media outlets are
providing a forum for groups focused on blaming intimate partner
violence on movements toward equality for women. If searching online
for research on intimate partner violence, one will find ample statistics
purporting to show that domestic assault is primarily perpetrated by
women against men and that all research showing the contrary is part of
an anti-male conspiracy and vast cover-up. These claims are bolstered by
some quite credible looking sources and these arguments are convincing
to some law enforcement personnel, men’s rights activists, and legal
and criminal justice workers. Violence perpetrated by women is a very
real and significant problem, and men’s victimization, including sexual
assault, by both male and female partners has often been ignored.
See for example
In addition, issues such as same-sex partner violence perpetrated by
women have not been adequately addressed by some antiviolence
activists. At the same time, the claim that women as a group are much
more violent than men and cause more injury and death to male
partners than men cause to women, along with claims that all research
on intimate partner violence over the past forty years is dramatically

distorted by anti-male bias lacks credible evidence. Courtwatchers may
wish to be on the alert for claims by judges, attorneys, expert witnesses,
law enforcement, and others that men rarely perpetrate domestic
violence and that most attacks are perpetrated or provoked by women,
and that claims of violence by men are simply evidence of social biases
against men. Be cautious about information from groups like SAVE (Stop
Abusive and Violent Environments) which often paints partner violence
an issue of equal participation by both partners, and cites research in a
misleading way to make the claim that up to 90% of sexual assault claims
to police are false (
Nine-Facts-About-Sexual-Violence-and-Rape1.pdf). They also have a
“Regret is not Rape” campaign. Consider looking to NCADV and National
Coalition for the Defense of Battered Women
for statistics that come from peer-reviewed research sources and looking
to local community organizations for their experiences and knowledge.

Sources are organized with the most detailed and potentially relevant
organizations listed first.
Guides to starting a court monitoring project:
Legal Momentum, New York
includes: “Legal Resource Kit: A Guide to Courtwatching in Domestic
Violence and Sexual Assault Cases.” This is a 37 page step-by-step guide
for creating a productive courtwatch program, including stages of
program development, sample forms, and (old) contact information for
existing programs.
National Organization for Women, Washington DC
includes: Instructions on how to set up courtwatch and provide visible
presence and support during a case. Examples are of abortion rights
organizing. Very detailed information on how to prepare for a trial
and what to do during a trial, dealing with court personnel, necessary
expertise and preparation in developing courtwatch, accessing court
files, filing complaints against judges, glossary of terms.
The Advocates for Human Rights, Minnesota
includes: Brief and general guidance on how to set up a courtwatch
Guide for starting courtwatch

PowerPoint on the basics of court monitoring (By a group that advocates
for harsher penalties for people with repeated assault convictions)
includes: Definitions, links, and resources for starting courtwatch (relies
on existing programs from a variety of political perspectives)
Battered Women’s Justice Project two page resource guide for starting a
court monitoring project
Battered Women’s Justice Project general
includes: Extensive resources about courts, IPV, trainings, and work
to improve criminal justice system practices. Provides links for many
organizations across the US working on these issues.
Relevant information on intimate partner violence or criminalization
of survivors:
National Coalition for the Defense of Battered Women
Examples of courtwatch projects including sample manuals, volunteer
applications, guidelines, data collection forms, and reports:
Saint Martha’s Hall and SLEVAWN, (St. Louis End Violence Against Women
Network), Missouri
court watch type: Domestic Violence
Court Watch Project
includes: Volunteer job descriptions, volunteer recruitment/training ad
flyer, goals, courtroom protocol data collection form (with questions

about judges’ explanations, how parties were called and presence of
bailiffs), case observation form (with questions about litigant support,
judicial manner and courtroom safety, explanation for terms and
questions on all forms and instructions on how to fill them out, example
of online courtwatch shift sign ups with, copies of
narrative and data reports of courtwatch findings.
King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, Washington
court watch type: Sexual Violence
includes: Describe of courtwatch volunteer competencies, scheduling
document, and duty description, statement of beliefs and workplace
philosophy relating to courtwatch project, volunteer application,
examples of data collected as case summaries, examples of reports.
Court Watch Montgomery, Maryland
court watch type: Domestic Violence
includes: Extremely detailed data collection forms and guidelines for
different types of court hearings, multiple reports and distributions of
data, very specific policy recommendations connected to courtwatch
findings (e.g. recommendations for staggered exits from court and
requests for judges to expand particular kinds of communication with
complainants), detailed application forms and listing of needed skills and
tasks, news and information on ongoing meetings and training.
The Fund for Modern Courts, New York
court watch type: General
includes: Very detailed four page courtroom data collection form for
family court cases with questions about judge behavior and language
and court outcomes; detailed family court overview form with questions
about physical space, conditions, accessibility, and more; guides to the
courts, and long series of court monitoring reports.
CeaseFirePA, Pennsylvania
court watch type: Gun Possession and Trafficking
website: Resources 13
includes: Guide for volunteers explaining court processes, logistical
information for volunteers including volunteer role, required behavior,
attire, requirements around children in court, explanation of the
courtwatch process which can include a significant amount of waiting
and require patience with rescheduling, volunteer application, rationale
for courtwatch program.
National Family Court Watch project, Michigan, California, Massachusetts,
New York, and Rhode Island
court watch type: Custody, Visitation, Support and Property Issues
includes: Volunteer application form, statement of volunteer
responsibilities and qualifications, online portal for reporting data,
courtwatch data collection form, online request form for universities
to set up ongoing courtwatch internship opportunities for students,
resource guides for volunteers including a link to journalists’ guide for
covering the Michigan courts, court code of conduct official documents,
information on requirements for courtroom accommodations for people
with disabilities, etc.
DC Safe, Washington DC
court watch type: Domestic Violence
website: and https://courtwatchdc.
includes: Courtwatch case statistics, courtwatch sample reports, mission,
history, goals, and partners, courtwatch blog, service learning form for
university partners, and more.
Stop Violence Against Women, Ontario, Canada
court watch type: Abuse Against Women
209.asp and
includes: Courtwatch brochure including “list of judicial responses that
empower abused women,” why you should volunteer, history and
purpose, volunteer job description, volunteer application, reports.

Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council, Texas
court watch type: Domestic Violence
includes: Detailed 4 page court observation data form, observation
instructions, purpose, background, and goals.
Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network, Illinois
court watch type: Domestic Violence
includes: Volunteer recruitment information, volunteer application form,
several examples of reports
West Coast Leaf, British Columbia, Canada
court watch type: Gender Bias and Access to Justice in Child Protection
includes: Discussion of courtwatch recruitment, method, findings, and
report with policy recommendations.
Court Watch NOLA, Louisiana
court watch type: General
includes: Graphic with list of questions for different courts about
transparency, accessibility, ethics, rights of defendants, needs of victims
in court. Includes history, mission, goals, and sample reports.
Organization: DWI, New Mexico
court watch type: DUI
includes: Helpful example of a courtwatch handbook for monitors
observing DUI cases. Includes background information, courtroom
decorum, criminal trial process, courthouse information, glossary of
terms, ideas about best practices.

The Network for Public Health Law
court watch type: None (Informational Source)
Research article on courtwatch for domestic violence with public health
Organization: Immigration Court Watch, Illinois
court watch type: Immigration
includes: Example of guidelines for courtwatching, information collection,
history and links to immigration law resources.
Police Reform Organizing Project, New York
court watch type: Monitoring impact of policing practices
includes: Description, factsheets, and reports for courtwatch program aimed
at exposing consequences of NYPD “broken windows” policing strategies.
City of Cleveland, Ohio
court watch type: General
includes: Very basic information on the program and rationale
Court Watch of North Carolina
court watch type: Family Law Issues
includes: Example of a website of a very broad courtwatch project that
includes multiple forms of training, advocacy and services

Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America, Illinois
court watch type: Immigration
includes: Very basic information about issues and how to contact
Office of the Fulton County District Attorney, Alaska
court watch type: General
includes: Very general information
National Council of Jewish Women – Chicago North Shore Section, Illinois
court watch type: Domestic Violence
includes: Mission, objectives, basic logistics, connections to related
volunteer and advocacy work.

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