Making a Difference; Volunteering for CourtWatch

Making a Difference; Volunteering for CourtWatch

I started volunteering as a CourtWatch observer this past January, and it’s now something I look forward to doing every time my shift comes up—usually every other Friday afternoon at the Regional Justice Center in Kent. I observe sentencing hearings because those are what take place on Fridays.

When I applied to join CourtWatch, I had already been an active supporter of YWCA Pierce County for 15 years, volunteering (mostly in fundraising efforts) on behalf of victims of domestic and sexual violence. I’d been looking for an opportunity in the legal realm because I’ve had an interest in court proceedings since I was a child watching Perry Mason on TV. When I found the CourtWatch listing on the VolunteerMatch website, it sounded like an ideal fit with my skills, interests, and availability. I’ve found it to be as fascinating and rewarding as I’d hoped since I can indulge my interest in the legal system and observe the personalities involved close up while also performing a valuable service.

With KCSARC, I’m able to work on behalf of victims of domestic and sexual violence in a way that I feel more directly connected to the mission of the organization. I observe and report on the judicial aftermath of sex-related crimes. My understanding is that victims are often reluctant to come forward out of fear of the unknown—what they might face in court. Then again, some victims’ expectations might be unrealistically positive based on TV dramas that wrap up so tidily. So the reports that my fellow observers and I submit provide a fuller picture of what actually goes on in King County courts.

The afternoon before my scheduled shift, I receive my assignment from the CourtWatch Services Coordinator, along with the probable cause documents for the cases I’ve been assigned. I review those documents, which describe how the alleged crime came to the attention of law enforcement and the circumstances of the investigation, including statements by victims and the defendant. During my shift in the courtroom, I observe the proceedings intently, noting as much actual testimony as I can—similar to a court reporter but without the shorthand machine—along with other details I observe about the conduct of the judge, attorneys, defendant, victims present, and other staff. After I return home, I write up and submit my report using the online forms provided by CourtWatch. Besides the form for the sentencing hearing itself, there is a form for giving feedback specifically about the judge.

Having had no previous exposure to the court system other than jury duty in Tacoma, I’ve been fascinated and sometimes impressed, sometimes disturbed, by the conduct I’ve observed in the sentencing hearings I’ve attended. I’ve occasionally observed inappropriate behavior in a judge and then thought how unsettling this would be if I were a victim. I’ve also had the satisfaction of observing judges who were exceedingly caring of victims and suitably castigatory to convicted defendants. I feel I’m doing a real service for the courts and the community by reporting my impressions, good and bad, as a disinterested third party, knowing the information is being used by KCSARC to help prepare victims for the court process, to provide feedback to judges, and to prepare reports on particular aspects of the court system. 

By profession, I’m a freelance copyeditor with writing in my background, so observation, note-taking, and report writing come naturally to me. I’m enjoying applying these skills in a realm outside of my usual work in business communications and publishing. At the same time, I hope that my efforts help provide safety, healing and empowerment for vulnerable members of our community.


Didn't Know This Existed

This was so interesting. I didn't know this service existed. What a great way to help provide feedback to judges in such sensitive cases from an impartial third party.

Didn't Even Know This Existed

This was so interesting. I didn't know this service existed. What a great way to help provide feedback to judges in such sensitive cases from an impartial third party.

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