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Room helps victims escape courtroom stress

December 12, 1998|By MARLO BARNHART

While strong emotions, conflicts and high drama are expected inside Washington County courtrooms, there can be problems when those components spill out into the hallways.

"In the past, we have had to put people into empty courtrooms or at opposite ends of the courtroom hallway," said Jill Ritter, director of the victim/witness unit in the Washington County State's Attorney's Office.

Now a new room, designated a victim/witness room, is made available in situations where people need to be separated or at least to have a quiet place to wait during a trial.

Ritter said some victims, especially those involved in felonies and violent crimes, are uncomfortable sitting in the same hallway with family and friends of the defendant, or witnesses for the defense.

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"We do a lot of work with children, and it is especially important to have a place for children," Ritter said.

The room is designed not only to lessen any embarrassment or fear that victims may feel, but also as a quiet place where they can read or just be away from crowds.

Washington County Circuit Judge Fred Wright, who authorized the former interview room for this new use, said the idea is to separate ... whoever needs to be separated.

"It will be especially good where children are involved," Wright said, whether that be as victims, or in Department of Social Services cases.

Witnesses will also be able to use the room - one "side" in a criminal or civil matter would be in the hallway and the other could be in the room.

Lately, Wright said, the court has had to deal with larger groups of people, and having a choice of where to put them will be an improvement.

Washington County State's Attorney Ken Long said he is pleased with the new room and its purpose.

"It's tough enough to come in to testify, so if we can provide a little privacy, that's great," Long said.

The room was already carpeted in a soothing shade of blue.

Excess grant money was used to buy a sofa and loveseat, table, lamp, several pictures and some toys for children.

"We also got a TV-VCR combination and about 10 videotapes, mainly for children," Ritter said.

Ritter said she is still looking for other items to make the room homey and more useful.

In addition to Ritter, the victim/witness unit includes Mark Singer, victim/witness coordinator; and two assistants, Jennifer Bricker and Cindy Collins.

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