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Fort Bragg, Cumberland courts partner to serve domestic violence victims

A participant passes a flame to another candle in an Oct. 5, 2011 vigil at a military base in North Carolina to remember the victims of domestic violence and to spread awareness of domestic violence.

JOHN SULESKI/U.S. AIR FORCE

By DREW BROOKS | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: August 25, 2018

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — Domestic violence victims on Fort Bragg will soon be able to apply for protective orders without stepping foot off the installation.

A partnership between Army Community Service and the Cumberland County court system will allow victims to initiate civil domestic violence protective lawsuits from the Soldier Support Center off Normandy Drive.

Fort Bragg is the first military installation in the state – and believed to be one of the first in the country – to play host to an eFiling location for domestic violence cases, officials said.

The goal, Fort Bragg and court officials said, is to make filing such lawsuits more convenient to victims while also providing greater access to support programs and advocates.

"It's kind of a scary place, the courthouse is," said Tom Hill, Family Advocacy Program manager for Fort Bragg. "This is a lot less forbidding."

Hill said the new system, known as the eCourts Civil Domestic Violence System, also will give victims more time with advocates who can help them make a safety plan, obtain housing assistance and take other steps to ensure they have the support they need.

"It's convenience," he said.

Fort Bragg is expected to begin using the system Sept. 5,  Hill said.

Soldiers and spouses file about 25 domestic violence cases in Cumberland County each month, Hill said, but he noted that many instances of domestic violence go unreported.

Cumberland County Chief District Court Judge Robert Stiehl said linking victims and advocates was an important benefit of the eFiling system and could make it more likely that victims come forward and seek legal protection.

Courthouse officials cannot make recommendations to victims, he said. But family advocates at Fort Bragg and those with nonprofit partners can provide a direct link to important information and resources not available at the courthouse in downtown Fayetteville.

"And they won't have to drive 12 miles to put things in motion," Stiehl said.

Hill said the system will allow advocates on the third floor of the Soldier Support Center to assist in the preparation of court documents on behalf of victims and facilitate a face-to-face video conference between the victim and a Cumberland County judge.

District Court judges will be available for video conferences twice a day, officials said. Cases must be filed on Fort Bragg by 1 p.m.

The eFiling system also will provide a direct link to law enforcement, which will have immediate access to protective order documents from patrol cars, allowing for faster service of court orders.

Cumberland County adopted the system earlier this year, launching an eFiling location at the Rape Crisis Volunteers of Cumberland County office on June 4. At the time, the county was one of eight in North Carolina to have adopted the service, following Alamance, Davidson, Durham, Forsyth, Guilford, Onslow and Wake counties.

Alamance County adopted the system first, in 2013, according to state officials. The latest expansion is part of a three-year grant through the U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women.

By 2019, state officials said the system will be online in 16 counties and service more than half of North Carolina's population.

According to officials, the eFiling provides access to courts and law enforcement without compromising privacy and confidentiality and without the need to leave the safety of a secure location.

"It's cutting edge," Stiehl said. "This is the future."

Officials from North Carolina's Administrative Office of the Courts were at Fort Bragg this week to train advocates in using the eFiling system. Stiehl said the county hopes to partner with other organizations to host other eFiling sites.

The goal, he said, is to have as many locations as possible throughout the area, including Hope Mills, Spring Lake and western Fayetteville. Satellite locations will relieve the burden on victims, especially those with young children, Stiehl said.

Hill said Fort Bragg is planning to spread information about the new eFiling service through unit and family readiness group training, as well as through the use of closed circuit television ads and pamphlets that will be distributed across post.

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