Bordallo of the Family Violence Court in Guam discusses his specialized court, including challenges and
opportunities faced by the court and stakeholders. The judge also offers a unique perspective on responding to domestic
violence in an island community. (September 2013)
Hi, this is Katie Crank, from the Center for Court Innovation’s domestic violence team. Following
is a New Thinking podcast with Judge Michael Bordallo of the Guam Family Violence Court. The conversation
was recorded in September of 2012.
CRANK: Hello, I am here in Guam as part of the national
training and technical assistance that our office provides through the Office on Violence Against Women’s Court
Enhancement and Training Grant funding stream. Today I’m speaking with Judge Michael Bordallo, who
presides over the day to day operations of Guam’s Family Violence Court. Thanks so much for taking
the time to speak with me today.
JUDGE MICHAEL BORDALLO: You’re welcome and welcome
CRANK: Thank you. So Guam is a U.S. territory in the Western Pacific
Ocean with a population of around 160,000 and you have a diverse culture here with a mix of native Chamorro residents,
Filipino, Pacific Islanders, Asian, white, and we’re wondering if there are any specific issues that are really
a challenge to the court in addressing domestic violence with these populations.
Well I think the biggest challenge when we have the diverse cultures is language. For the local, for the
Chamorro population it’s not as big an issue because most of us speak English and all the schools, everything
is conducted in English, but the rest of the Asian Pacific Islander population, and to some extent even for the Filipino,
and we have some Koreans and Chinese, a lot of them speak little to no English. So those groups are a little
bit harder. With the Pacific Islanders, we have enough of a defendant population that we can actually bring
in, for instance we conduct groups in Chuukese, which is their native tongue, so we’re fortunate enough to have
counselors who speak the language – and unfortunately there’s enough of them to form a group and so that issue
is addressed there. I think the harder ones would be, for instance, even the Filipino or the Chinese or
the Koreans, where then we need to have translators for each of those defendants. So language is the primary
issue. There are some cultural issues – to what degree is family violence defined? Whether it’s
acceptable or not acceptable, and those form part of the counseling issues that are addressed.
Can you tell me a little bit more about the specialized docket that you have, that’s dedicated to domestic violence
or family violence cases? Your court, as we mentioned, is the recipient of an OVW Courts Enhancement and
Training Grant, and in a lot of domestic violence courts and calendars on the mainland, those courts handle misdemeanor
criminal domestic violence cases, or civil orders of protection, or they’ve created an integrated domestic violence
court. So can you tell us just a little bit more about your family violence court and some of the procedures
that are particular to your work here in Guam?
BORDALLO: I think our work here would
be defined as an integrated domestic violence court. For instance, my docket would include all civil protection
order cases, which we’ve designated as protective order cases, and those used to be defined by cohabitants,
so you had to have lived with the respondent. Now it’s been expanded to include almost any kind of
family relationship, whether they’re living together now or not. I also would handle all of the civil
restraining orders, which is even broader in terms of relationships. It’s integrated so any domestic
case between the same parties, for instance, in a protective order case, whether that domestic case was filed before
or after the civil protection case would also be assigned or reassigned to the court, so it’s one family, one
judge, and then obviously all of the domestic violence misdemeanor as well as felony cases are assigned to this court.
So basically I’m doing almost 100 percent domestic family violence, either in the criminal setting or the civil
setting, just about all my docket time. We’re general jurisdiction judges, so I still have my own
share of regular domestic cases, regular civil cases, but all [of my] criminal cases are family violence cases.
CRANK: Can you tell me a little bit about how you came to preside over this specialized family
BORDALLO: Our system here on Guam is that we have seven superior court
judges and we rotate assignments. So prior to coming onto this, I was in charge of the adult drug court.
So we serve, right now we serve three year rotations, so I’m in the first year of a three year rotation on family
violence. And so in the past we’ve just drawn at random which assignment the judges will take with
the understanding that everybody rotates around so that you do all the different assignments. And we have
several treatment courts. We have a mental health court, we have a drug court, we have this, we have the
juvenile drug courts, and we have started a DUI court, but we’re still finalizing some of the aspects of that.
CRANK: Then shifting gears a little bit, can you tell me how the resource coordinator assists
the family violence court?
BORDALLO: She’s been on for two and a half – or two years,
almost, I think, and I’ve only been on for a year so she is in charge of everything with the Family Violence
Court. She’s my liaison to the community. She’s also in charge of reviewing and processing
the program that we provide to the clients, ensuring to the greatest extent possible that we are using the latest
available evidence-based techniques, whether it’s in terms of, for instance, things as little as how the plea
agreements – we’ve just had a recent, I think pretty substantive change in law where we’ve gone from a
diversion to a deferred plea, so she has to coordinate that. She also spends a lot of time reporting to
people on our progress.
CRANK: Can you tell us what’s an example of a lesson learned,
just in your experience in the year that you’ve been on the Family Violence Court, what’s a lesson learned?
BORDALLO: Well I think, you know, number one the biggest benefit that I have received is in terms
of training. And that again goes, that’s part of Siiri’s[kc1]
role as the coordinator here, is to make sure the judges are up to date on the training and, and I think the number
one thing is the approach and understanding, first of all, of your knowledge of what a family violence case involves,
and the dynamics. And I gave an example – there’s a conference going on out here and I gave just a
really simple example of that, just in terms of protective orders. You know, normally in court if somebody
keeps reappearing before you, you tend to say listen, if you appear before me one more time, I’m just not even
going to grant your request. And one of the basic things we learn from our training is to ensure, for example,
victims of domestic violence – I don’t care if you keep dismissing the case. I want you to know that
the court is always open and you are free to come back and ask again for the restraining orders because, for instance,
I think one of the studies pointed out that it normally would take somewhere between five and seven incidences before
a victim would even have courage to seek assistance of the court. So it’s just learning about the
dynamics in a family violence case that has been the biggest benefit. So the training is just, is just
crucial because for the most part – I’ll be honest, it’s not going to be the way you normally think about
cases, or you normally think about incidences. Without that knowledge you never, I think for the most part,
would understand how these cases work.
CRANK: That’s very true. And didn’t
you also attend a National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges training that was specific to running a domestic
violence court docket?
BODALLO: Absolutely, and the trainings – I think I’ve actually
gone to two already in San Francisco and in Chicago, and again – like I said, the best thing was you learned the
realities behind domestic violence. You can read a declaration that just says, oh, he slapped me and then
he pulled my hair, and not really understand the dynamics behind what happened. All that’s gonna show
up on a piece of paper is he pulled my hair, but you have to understand what the dynamics are behind the intimidation
and things of that nature. And I think the training really pointed out, you just don’t think about
how these cases are, and so it’s good to understand that, and then also very important – the treatment aspect
of it, and how you can, you work to make the defendants and the perpetrators change and making sure that you hold
them accountable, but more importantly, you provide them the resources so that they’re not set up to fail.
CRANK: What would you say your biggest challenges are, in terms of offender accountability and
victim safety, and how does the domestic violence court or the family violence court work to address these?
BORDALLO: Well I think in terms of victim safety, our biggest challenge, like everywhere else,
is whether the community as a whole has the ability to provide the resources and supports to the victim so that issues
that affect their behavior are addressed. And for safety it’s things like, okay, can the community
or does the community have the resources to meet their housing needs, their financial needs, their support needs?
because what I’ve learned from training is that all those needs greatly affect whether [00:09:24.21]
or not they’re gonna say, I want to see the defendant or not, whether or not I’m gonna want to see the
person who just beat me up or not. And they affect it so much more than you analyzing it, whatever you
believe. I mean the number one question I think off everybody’s lips, when they hear of this type
of crime is, why didn’t she run? Why didn’t she just leave him? So he supports you,
that’s no reason to stay. I mean those are the – and it’s the natural, in some ways it’s
a natural response, but the reality is you learn that those are very real needs, you know? Children and
taking care of the kids, and providing a house, those are very real needs that people are willing to compromise their
CRANK: In closing, if there’s a jurisdiction like yours which is relatively
isolated and perhaps has fewer resources to create a domestic violence docket, or domestic violence court, what would
be one or two words of advice that you might give?
BORDALLO: My first piece of advice
would be that judge has to attend a training session. because if you’re going to start a family violence
court, just as if you’re going to start a drug court, whoever’s in charge has to have that understanding
of those cases before him. I was a judge for 13 years and I was a lawyer for 10 years before that.
I was amazed at how much I learned, just attending one training session. And then the second thing you
need is you need to have the ability to marshal whatever resources you have in that community and it really has to
focus on two areas, and it has to focus on treatment of the defendant, and it has to focus on support of the victim.
And those are kind of the two areas. But you know, we’ve learned that there are a lot of tools that
are inexpensive. For instance, the lethality test and lethality assessments, those are 20 question, 25
question sheets that your victim advocates can use, that go a long way in assisting you in just narrowing the odds,
putting the odds in your favor when you make the decision. Yes you can have contact or no you can’t
have contact. So there are resources out there that are inexpensive and any jurisdiction can access through
organizations such as yours, and STOP grants, and even if you don’t get grants but you can access them for resources
to assist you, so that you make the best decision possible.
Well thanks again, Judge, for talking with us today.
BORDALLO: You’re welcome and
I hope you enjoyed your time on Guam and looking forward to working with you in the future.
Most certainly. Thanks again.
CRANK: We just heard a New Thinking podcast
with Judge Michael Bordallo, recorded in September 2012. To hear more you can follow our podcasts on iTunes
or visit our website at www.courtinnovation.org.