Florida's Domestic Violence Judicial Education Programs

Kathleen Tailer, Senior Attorney II, Florida Office of the State Courts Administrator

The domestic violence unit within the Office of the State Courts Administrator in Florida has created innovative education and training solutions to ensure high-level performance by Florida’s judiciary. These solutions include online videos, benchbooks, and regional training programs.

The Florida Office of the State Courts Administrator (OSCA), through its Office of Court Improvement (OCI), supports all judges who handle any aspect of civil domestic violence injunctions in receiving specialized domestic violence training, including the procedural and substantive matters pertaining to domestic violence injunctions, the dynamics of domestic violence, and the impact of domestic violence on children. To meet this goal, the domestic violence team within OSCA provides innovative education and training solutions to ensure high-level performance by Florida’s judiciary.

Virtual Court
OCI’s virtual-court course is an interactive program designed to walk a judge through a domestic violence injunction hearing while reviewing the underlying law and issues faced during a permanent injunction hearing. Conflicting testimony, lack of counsel, paternity, child support, and allegations of violations are some of the challenges that often must be addressed by the court. This training program presents video scenarios and pertinent documents related to self-represented parties engaged in a civil domestic violence injunction case. Each scenario is viewed from the judge’s perspective. After some testimony or argument, the judge is called upon to rule, grant or deny a motion, issue an order, or enter a finding. At that point, each participant enters his or her ruling. Participants then receive feedback from the program, which suggests why their answers may or may not have been the most appropriate and provides links to statutory references and other applicable resources. Judges and attorneys can receive continuing education credit for completing the course. 

Benchbooks, Tool Kits, and Videos
Staff also developed interactive, user-friendly benchbooks and toolkits on domestic violence and trauma and other topics. The 2017 Domestic Violence Benchbook is a compilation of promising, science-informed practices, as well as a resource guide for legal proceedings involving interpersonal violence. It is a comprehensive tool for both new and seasoned judges, providing information regarding legal and nonlegal considerations in domestic violence cases. The benchbook further provides information on every step of the injunction process, complete with flowcharts and checklists of the procedures the judge must follow to comply with Florida law. It also contains a legal civil outline, evidence outline, and criminal domestic violence outline, each complete with case law and statutory authority.  

The benchbook also features:

  • domestic violence, repeat violence, sexual violence and dating violence, stalking, and elder abuse benchcards
  • a mandatory checklist for reporting abuse
  • colloquy for injunction hearings
  • child support in domestic violence proceedings
  • comparison of chapter 741 and 39 injunctions
  • comparison of the five injunctions for protection
  • firearms and domestic violence quick-reference guide
  • courtroom security considerations 
  • a process flowchart
  • additional articles and publications related to interpersonal violence

Users can access an unabridged electronic copy of the benchbook for printing or reference a section directly. In 2018 OCI will further enhance the benchbook by adding short, two-to-three-minute videos that expound on various topics created by judges from around the state.  

The 2017 Florida Sexual Violence Benchbook is a comprehensive resource guide for judges who are on the criminal bench and anticipate that they will hear cases involving sexual violence. The benchbook provides information on the hearings that courts routinely hold, complete with flowcharts and checklists designed to provide in-depth analysis of the criminal procedures affected by the nature of the crime.  

The Family Court Tool Kit: Trauma and Child Development helps Florida’s judiciary move toward a trauma-responsive, developmentally informed court with a foundation in cutting-edge science. This tool kit contains compelling information, rooted in science, which aids in determining children’s needs based on developmental milestones and the impact of trauma. By using the information and practices in the tool kit, judicial officers will improve judicial decision making and outcomes for children.

The Family Court Tool Kit: The Basics, also available on the OCI website, contains basic information about Florida’s family court. It includes a timeline of significant family court events; a list of case types that comprise Florida’s family court; guiding principles; descriptions of the ten core components; information about the one-family/one-judge model and noted benefits of the model; filing trends; process maps for dependency, delinquency, dissolution-of-marriage, and domestic violence injunction cases; and links to additional resources. For judges new to the family court bench and new court administration staff, this tool kit is required reading for obtaining foundational knowledge about family court.

OCI has further coordinated and hosted webinars for judges on topics such as strangulation, determination of child support from the bench, immigration issues, the use of therapy dogs in judicial proceedings, and medical forensic sexual-assault examinations. Videos available on the OCI website assist petitioners and respondents to understand Florida’s orders of protection and the requirements for filing a petition. An orientation video to civil domestic violence court provides important information about courtroom procedures, discusses the participants in the hearing, and answers many of the questions litigants might have about what will happen when they come to court. Additional videos for judges discuss common myths and misconceptions associated with the injunction process found within the dependency statutes and the differences between these injunctions and the civil injunctions for protection; some of the newer technologies stalkers are using to harass their victims; and the OCI Promising Practices Guide for Enforcing Batterer Accountability.

Additional publications and links have made OCI’s Florida Institute on Interpersonal Violence website the “go-to” site for judges and stakeholders to find information and valuable resources pertaining to interpersonal violence. Brochures for petitioners and respondents, newsletters, case-law updates (both state and national), and a host of articles all assist Florida’s judiciary and others in finding the national and statewide trends and cutting-edge information needed to enhance Florida’s response to domestic violence.  

Training Programs
The Florida Institute on Interpersonal Violence judicial-training program maximizes participation by bringing the training to the judges in their own regions. The trainings enhance statewide consistency and uniformity and encourage proactive sharing among the state’s 20 judicial circuits. Beginning in 2014, OCI sponsored nine domestic violence regional training programs in nine different cities. This program allows participants to work through multiple scenarios and to watch and grade a video-recorded judge handling various domestic violence issues. The training covered all forms of intimate partner abuse, including dating violence, sexual violence, and elder abuse. The trainings were attended by 171 judges, who received 12.25 hours of continuing judicial education (CJE) credit.

A second round of trainings delved more intricately into a variety of topics and began in 2016. Topics included economic relief for victims, time-sharing, violations and contempt, and post-judgment motions. Attendees each received 12.75 hours of CJE credit, which included 2.75 hours of ethics. During FY 2016-17, 66 more judges attended the trainings. In FY 2017-18, two phase II programs and one additional introductory program were offered to Florida’s judges, as well as a special workshop focusing on collecting, preserving, and presenting digital evidence. While Judges Carroll Kelly and Peter Ramsberger created and began teaching the training back in 2014, they were joined by Judges Alice Blackwell, Dan Traver, Karen Cole, Jack Helinger, Michelle Morley, and James Colaw, as well as Steven Bradley from the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, in 2016. Judge Ramsberger and Judge Kelly were recognized with the 2017 Chief Justice Award for Judicial Excellence, both in part due to their excellent work and accomplishments with this training program. 


Reports are part of the National Center for State Courts' "Report on Trends in State Courts" and "Future Trends in State Courts" series.
Opinions herein are those of the authors, not necessarily of the National Center for State Courts.