In California, the Contra Costa County Superior Court, located in Martinez, runs a unique program, The Elder Court. This is such a brilliant and important idea that you should know about it.
The Honorable Joyce Cram has presided over the court, which is in session every Tuesday, since it was established in 2008, and handles every possible kind of elder-related case – criminal, conservatorships, probate, financial abuse, physical abuse, civil cases, restraining orders, small claims and more.
The Elder Court program goes further than familiar formal courts. It also provides a Senior Peer Counseling program, volunteers who are available during every court session to support petitioners through the process and when necessary, work with the District Attorney's Victims Assistance Program.
Judge Cram explains further:
“They will meet with the seniors before the hearing and tell them where they’re going to sit before they are called, what papers to show the judge and when to speak.
“After the hearing, they will make reassurance calls to make sure the elder understood what happened. A lot of times if you are self-represented, senior or not, you have no idea what just happened when you got the order. So there are reassurance components before and afterward.”
Another service, the Senior Self-Help Center, is staffed by experienced attorneys, providing free assistance and referrals for a wide variety of legal claims and helps prepare elders for hearings. There is also a free Spanish translation service.
The court also recognizes that, as Judge Cram notes, “elders have special physical, mental and psychological needs that traditional courtrooms were poorly equipped to address." An example:
”At 10:00AM is the restraining order calendar. We calendared those at 10:00 on purpose,” says Judge Cram. “It is difficult for someone who may be old and frail to get up, get dressed, eat breakfast, take their medications and be alert by 8:30AM. There is evidence that 10:00AM is an optimal time for alertness for seniors.
“We have evidentiary hearings at 10:30AM, and those might be the preliminary examinations with the elderly victim, or even to preserve testimony if there is a risk that the victim will die before trial.”
Next week, The Elder Court will receive the State of California's highest award, the Ralph N. Kleps Award for Improvement in Administration.
It is, as far as I can determine, the only court of its kind in the U.S. But others are beginning to take notice. According to the judge, she has met so far with interested representatives of court systems around northern and southern California, from Buffalo and Chicago.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: Stuff