By LACIE PIERSON
CHARLESTON - With the goal of increasing transparency and accessibility to the judicial branch, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals on Monday released a series of videos to explain the process of obtaining a domestic violence petition.
The four-part video series is available on the West Virginia Judiciary website and its YouTube channel, and the goal of the videos is to make the process a little more clear for people seeking domestic violence petitions, which accounted for 25.8 percent of all filings in magistrate courts throughout West Virginia in 2017, Chief Justice Beth Walker said Monday morning.
The videos are meant to clear up misconceptions and provide an easy-to-understand road map to obtain a petition, Walker said.
"What we're trying to do is make it less intimidating for people," Walker said during a news conference Monday. "It's difficult, as we all know, for domestic violence victims to come forward. Anything we can do to make it a little less scary is what we're hoping to accomplish with these videos."
Justices Tim Armstead, John Hutchinson and Evan Jenkins joined Walker in the Supreme Court chamber to announce the video series.
At least 34 people died as a result of domestic violence in West Virginia between Oct. 1, 2017, and Sept. 30, 2018, based on data compiled by the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence from media reports.
A person can file a domestic violence petition with the goal of getting a protective order, which identifies people who need to be protected from a specific person or people. The orders also determine what the person accused of domestic violence can or cannot do.
Walker and Joyce Yedlosky, a team coordinator for the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, noted that the process of filing a domestic violence petition and getting a protective order entirely is a separate process from that of a criminal case involving domestic abuse.
"They often think it's part of the criminal justice process, but [the domestic violence petition] is a separate civil process," Yedlosky said. "In the civil process, the petitioner, the person that files, has a little more control over what they're asking for and even in deciding whether or not they want to dismiss it. I think some of those things are cleared up in the video."
There are two options for watching the videos: a single 18-minute explanation, or four individual videos, one for each step in the process. Accompanying the videos is an informational brochure on the Supreme Court's website.
The Supreme Court was able to produce the video using money from a grant from Stop Violence Against Women Grant Program.
"It helps to sort through things because it's very difficult to do that with someone who has just been harmful to you," said Adrienne Worthy, executive director of Legal Aid of West Virginia. "So this civil protection order will help sort out all those things: custody of the children, visitation, child support, who lives in the house, who's going to pay the utilities - all of those things that suddenly are upon someone after a crisis incident like domestic violence."