Editor’s note: The Log Cabin Democrat is taking a deeper look at the effects domestic violence has on its victims and the services available to those who have been abused. This is the first story in the series.

Domestic violence shelter directors from across the state have come to Conway for the Arkansas Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s 2019 District Conference to learn tips to better serve the individuals of their communities.

Local judges as well as a city attorney spoke to a crowd of 30 on Wednesday regarding the fight Faulkner County courts have put up against domestic violence.

In the mid-90s, now-Circuit Judge H.G. Foster and now-District Judge David L. Reynolds formed the Special Team on the Prevention of Domestic Violence (STOP DV). Through the years, the efforts between the two have grown, and the entities and resources to keep their mission alive have also grown.

“He’s been taking everything he knows about domestic violence and bringing it to district court and I’ve been taking what I know about domestic violence to circuit court,” Foster said in reference to the movement beginning while Reynolds was a circuit judge and Foster was a prosecuting attorney.

Foster and Reynolds have worked together to create a model domestic violence court collaborative project.

The idea behind the project is to ensure violent offenders have “fewer places to hide in the system,” Foster said.

Through the years, it’s clear the system is working. However, it was a struggle to convince other judges early on that it was worth the battle, Reynolds said.

Wanting to educate others across the state, he and Foster sought out to spread the word about their project. It was not well-received initially.

“They thought it was a way to abuse the system,” Reynolds said regarding references to men and women of divorce cases using claims to make off with all the former couples belongings. While that happened, Reynolds said it didn’t happened often and that he wanted to focus on fighting against domestic violence.

“We decided we were going to focus in and that we were going to stop domestic violence in the 20th Judicial District.”

The quick decline in hospital visits and deaths related to a domestic violence-related case showed these efforts had a rapid impact locally, Foster said.

“The first year that [Reynolds] started this court, there were four domestic violence-related homicides. The next year, we had three,” he said as he continued listing the consecutive progression. “The next year, we had two. The next year, we had two. The next year, we had one. The next year, we had one. The next year, we had zero. And, the next year, we had zero … The numbers show that it works. We can give you names of people who are alive today because of what was done back in the 90s.”

The duo has larger goals for its initiative.

By sharing dockets and bringing other entities in to share information, Reynolds said the two have created a platform to keep track of repeat offenders, both on a misdemeanor and felony level. This is made possible by also communicating with the city attorney’s office, the prosecutor’s office, local police departments, the sheriff’s office and area shelters.

The idea behind the mission – that the 20th Judicial District does not take domestic violence-related cases lightly – is spreading.

“We’re being told by the local police department and the sheriff’s office that folks out there are understanding now what a no contact order is,” Reynolds said. “The word’s going through the jail, if you violate a no contact order, you’re going to jail. Period. You won’t get out until I tell you you can. We had one woman who’s husband was trying to beat her. She [told him he] didn’t want to beat her in Faulkner County.”

Arkansas Coalition Against Domestic Violence Executive Director Beth Goodrich said she was thankful these two judges were able to speak with shelter directors from across the state to educate others on what Faulkner County officials are doing to combat domestic violence.

Foster said the fight wouldn’t be possible without efforts of law enforcement and area prosecutors.

“I want it to be very clear – we’re judges,” he told the Log Cabin Democrat. “We sit up there and deal with things that come before us, whereas the prosecuting attorney’s office [and] the city attorney’s office bring the cases before us and put is in a position where we an do something. They don’t get nearly enough credit for it … not the prosecutor’s office. Carol Crews doesn’t get enough for it and Chuck Clawson doesn’t get enough credit for it.”

Bringing directors together during the coalition’s annual conference allows attendees to network. Goodrich said oftentimes, these directors find themselves serving the same victims who end up relocating to different counties across the state.

“These are what really facilitate programs supporting each other. I used to be a shelter director and a conference really opened my eyes to ways to network,” she said.

Charles Finkenbinder, a deputy prosecutor for the city of Conway, also spoke to Wednesday’s crowd.

The deputy prosecutor broke down the definitions and meanings of several domestic violence-related charges and talked about what charge properly fit different types of crimes.

Finkenbinder also told the group that no matter how many times a victim of domestic violence goes back to her abuser, he will always fight against the abuser and seek justice.

Through the years, Finkenbinder said he often is asked why a domestic violence victim returns to her abuser. No matter if the victim goes back or moves on, the deputy attorney said he will always prosecute against the offender.

“My response to that is: ‘I don’t care why she keeps taking him back,’” Finkenbinder said. “I’m not her therapist. I’m a lawyer … I don’t care why she keeps forgiving him. I don’t care why she keeps wanting to drop charges. I don’t care why she loves him. When I meet with her for the very first time, one of the very first things I tell her is I’m not going to tell you how to feel. You can go on with this however you want to go about it, because I’m not qualified to. I’m an attorney and I’m here for him.”

Women who go back to their abuser are often looked at negatively. However, Finkenbinder said these individuals have some of the best qualities.

“Let’s not forget the good qualities that people have when [others want to] complain about a woman dropping charges and take their abuser back,” he said. “It tells you that they’re very forgiving, they’re very optimistic people, they’re very apt to take the blame for things that they didn’t do or to save someone else’s feelings. When did those become bad qualities? They’re not bad qualities, they’re good qualities.”

Local officials are hoping to take the processes they’ve built to fight against domestic violence statewide.

Individuals who want to donate resources or who need services can visit www.domesticpeace.com.

Staff writer Marisa Hicks can be reached at mhicks@thecabin.net.