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Political Radar: Judge Wendy Davis talks courts during COVID, new OVWI program

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ALLEN COUNTY, Ind. (WPTA21) - “Some day, this is going to be a really good book for someone to write: the judicial system in America, during the pandemic.”

Judge Wendy Davis took to the Circuit Court bench at the beginning of the year.

The pandemic wreaked havoc on the court docket, and cases were delayed, piling up quickly for her.

“For a year almost, there was a backlog of civil cases, of family law cases, that couldn’t be heard,” Davis said, “we had litigants and families - some families fighting over custody of their kids, that had to be put on hold for almost a year.”

She continued, “so some of those things are flooding our calendars - our court calendars, to where I can only speak for myself, but I’m kind of drinking out of a fire hose to play catch up.”

There were many challenges for Davis during that time, which included: witnesses questioned with masks on, social distancing a jury, and allowing public access to certain cases.

Like many, Davis had to learn to judge, virtually.

“The judicial system is not set up for all the electronic meetings that now I think the world is going to go to,” she told us.

“The judicial system is set up to come to the court, have your day in court in front of a judge, jury, peers, the public,” she added, “I think for other hearings that are non-evidentiary hearings, I think there are some court systems and some judges that will begin to use ZOOM hearings down the road just for convenience.”

Though the courts are up and running now, Judge Davis believes it will take some time, to catch up.

“To don a robe everyday and get up on the bench every day from 8:30-4:30 and make decisions and do what you need to do, and at night do your administrative stuff and other orders… it’s a lot,” she explained, “but I think we’re all committed to the cause of keeping the justice system fair, keeping the justice system open to the public.”

Davis has also been working on a new, problem-solving court program.

RELATED: Allen County OWI court first in Indiana to be certified

Earlier this month, the Allen Circuit Court received its certification for OVWI court.

In July 2020, under a provisional certificate, dozens of those charged with a Level 6 felony for drunk driving, avoided jail time, undergoing treatment, therapy, and accountability.

“These are not murderers, these are not molesters. These are low level offenders that struggle with addiction, and in my case, in circuit court, mental health issues,” judge Davis shared, “and when you marry mental health and addiction, it often turns into OWI.”

So far, there have been 107 participants.

“Just this week, I proceeded over OVWI court,” she said, “I had seven people come up to the microphone and say, ‘Judge Davis, I am going to be one year sober’. And from the bench I clap.”

“They say, ‘I thought I could never do it. I thought I could never see my life without alcohol’,” Davis told us, “I remind them, that you’re going to keep the community safe. You’re lucky you’re not here on a homicide case, where you were drunk and killed somebody.”

When ruling from the Allen Circuit Court bench, Davis says there’s a fine line between mercy, and justice.

“The mercy part comes in when I see someone working really hard, and when they’re working really hard on their sobriety than I am,” she explained, “but when I see them working harder on their sobriety then my case managers, my problem solving team, and me, then it’s easy to show mercy.”

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Daniel Beals

Daniel Beals is the producer of the ABC21 feature franchise “21Country”. He is constantly on the lookout for ideas that capture the “people, places, things, and history” that makes Northeast Indiana unique. Feel free to reach out: dbeals@wpta21.com.

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