Victim advocates meet with Dane County judge they criticized

Victim advocates meet with Dane County judge they criticized

Dane County’s leading victim advocates met for an hour on Wednesday afternoon with the Dane County judge they openly criticized last week for being harmful toward sexual assault and domestic violence victims.

Shannon Barry with Domestic Abuse Intervention Services, Erin Thornley Parisi with the Rape Crisis Center, Jennifer Ginsburg with Safe Harbor Child Advocacy Center and Tony Gibart with End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin sat down with Dane County Judge Ellen Berz at her office to reinforce in person their concerns that comments she’d made in court toward victims would have a detrimental impact on the community.

“We met with Judge Berz this afternoon,” the four wrote in a statement to News 3. “We appreciated the opportunity to reiterate our concerns in person. We recommended that she attend training to better understand the dynamics of domestic violence, sexual assault and other forms of trauma. We hope that Judge Berz seeks out and takes advantage of those opportunities.”

The group said last week that what finally compelled them to publicly criticize a judge for the first time in any of their careers was Berz’s incarceration last November of a juvenile sexual assault victim because she refused to testify against her attacker in court. The teenage survivor ended up serving more time than her eventually-convicted attacker.

They also cited numerous examples where she refused to issue restraining orders to women who felt under imminent threat from their male partners.

The victim advocates told News 3 their colleagues had reached out on numerous occasions to Berz to offer training on the issue and Barry said they have not “always been received well.” For example, one of Gibart’s colleagues provided a 2015 group training for Dane County judges and sheriff’s department personnel surrounding victim rights and restraining orders. Ten sitting judges attended the event but Berz did not.

An email to Berz’s work and personal accounts seeking comment had not been returned as of this article’s posting Wednesday.

In a statement emailed to News 3 last week, Berz wrote, “I am always open to a discussion about how cases are handled in my courtroom and how the legal process affects the lives of people involved in a case…Judges are obligated to decide cases by applying the law to the facts of a case, and no two cases are alike.”