Anna Moscowitz Kross: Innovating the Criminal Domestic Violence Court System, One Living Room At A

Anna Moscowitz Kross was a revolutionary judge of the mid-20 century who sought to individualize the criminal domestic violence cases brought before her.   She believed that the criminal court system was too narrowly focused on the letter of the law, and not sufficiently interested in social science or discovering the causes of problems presented.  As if she had read Thane Rosenbaum’s The Myth of Moral Justice over a half-century before it was published, rather than pursue a formalistic approach, she used her creativity to tackle the uniqueness of domestic issues, and ultimately mend broken family lives in her court, Home Term Part.

Early on in her career Kross realized that criminal domestic violence issues posed a unique problem: accused abusers present a future danger and are in need of punishment and monitoring, while alleged victims are vulnerable and in need of ongoing protection from defendant abuse and control.  A hearing or trial in open court, with the couple testifying against each other, often in front of neighbors, would not serve to “bury the hatchet,” but would instead provide additional hazard to future family tranquility.  A judgment with a jail sentence or restraining order simply would not provide the remedy that these families desperately needed.

Aware of this, Kross came up with innovative approaches, including the development of a “dedicated court team” to monitor defendants, provide comprehensive services to victims, and inform judges on how to make quick and effective decisions.  By inviting victims’ advocates and resource coordinators to the court, and not just judges and lawyers, Kross was able to adapt to the particular dynamic of criminal domestic violence situations.  She urged the creation of such an informal “sociological court” outside of the criminal court system, staffed by a physician, psychiatrist and lawyer so that the individual would be evaluated as a whole person, and thus a meaningful plan of rehabilitation could be developed and effectuated.  In order to further facilitate treatment and conciliation, Home Term proceedings were conducted in a comfortable complex, where the opposing parties had to sit close together on a loveseat in a living room setting, rather than inside an impersonal courtroom.   Home Term was concerned with the totality of the circumstances, and sought to resolve the domestic problem on a larger scale with viable, long-term solutions, rather than with a detached final judgment.

Clearly, Kross’ innovations have paved the path for the way the contemporary legal system resolves domestic issues.  Just like the families of the 1940’s, today’s families need a “sociological court,” where partners’ stories are not restricted by evidentiary rules and where emotional, not just physical, abuse can be addressed.  Home Term’s non-adversarial, problem-solving orientation, has been emulated by many forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) today, including negotiation and mediation.   Divorce and child custody cases are often resolved via ADR since practical, workable solutions are necessary in order to be address family members’ priorities and concerns.  Just as Kross recognized the complexity of human relations, today’s family courts attempt to do the same by providing access to flexible solutions.   After all, there is no statute that could best determine which parent a child should spend Hanukkah or Easter with.

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