Judge Rick Magnis Monitors Most Dangerous Domestic Abusers in The Dallas Morning News

by Emily Roberts | Feb 17, 2014

Judge to Dallas-area domestic abusers: Show up weekly or go to jail

February 16, 2014
by Sarah Mervosh
The Dallas Morning News

Once a week, state District Judge Rick Magnis gives domestic violence offenders in his courtroom a choice: show up or go to jail.

Magnis, who presides over the 283rd District Court, is leading a new program that monitors highly dangerous family violence offenders on probation for a felony. It is one of several new initiatives that Dallas County judges are using to try to curb domestic violence.

Magnis’ high-risk offender program deals exclusively with plea-bargain cases and requires that the perpetrators meet with him each Friday as a condition of their probation. The judge hopes each of his handpicked abusers will be there, sitting on the wooden benches, waiting for their name to be called. If not, he immediately issues a warrant for their arrest.

“We are trailing, nailing and jailing them,” Magnis said. “If they don’t change their behavior, they are going to be in jail.”

The initiative, which began last month and currently works with five men on probation, is meant to help the worst abusers change their behavior and hold them accountable for their choices. In addition to the weekly meetings, Magnis can choose to require ankle bracelets, drug and alcohol monitoring, home visits and batterer’s intervention classes.

The most important goal, he said, is to make sure the victims stay safe — and alive.

The increased surveillance helps plug a gap in the system that previously made it difficult to know for sure whether the batterer was having contact with his victim. It also helps authorities obtain a warrant quickly if the abuser puts the victim at risk by violating probation, Magnis said.

Paige Flink, executive director of The Family Place shelter, said she’s encouraged that the program is placing the responsibility on the abuser.

“I’m hopeful that the accountability that the judge is putting around these batterers will help change their behavior,” she said. “The options for them, if they don’t follow his guidelines, are they are going to go to the penitentiary. That’s the bottom line.”

On Friday, a dozen key players from police to advocates met to go over how the offenders were doing. Two followed the terms of their probation, while one violated his curfew and another spent a night in jail for failing to complete court-ordered community service.

But one offender — Christopher, the group’s newest member — was missing from the courtroom. (Magnis ordered that the offenders’ full names be withheld to protect their identities as they work to change their abusive behavior.)

According to court records, Christopher had punched a pregnant woman several times in the stomach. And last fall, he threatened a woman with a knife, saying: “Don’t you know I’ll kill you? You’re my property.”

Magnis briefly met with the four men who were there, warning the ones who had strayed and encouraging those who were doing well. “You’re taking care of all of your business,” he told one. “I’m impressed.”

Then, just as Magnis was about to issue a warrant for Christopher’s arrest, a stocky man wearing a black T-shirt and red sweatpants walked into the courtroom. Magnis sat back down.

“What time are you supposed to be here?” Magnis asked him.

“3:30,” Christopher said.

“And what time did you get here?” the judge inquired.

“I made it to the parking lot by 3:47,” Christopher said so quietly the judge had to repeat it for the rest of the courtroom.

Magnis laid down the law.

“You’re going to be reporting to me every Friday. Understand? And I don’t really like it when people are late.”

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