Advocates want to know why lawmakers won’t consider bill that unlocks money to train judges in DV cases

There is a bill introduced in the state legislature that wants to unlock federal money for our state to train family court judges in domestic violence cases.

The money is already earmarked for states as long as they adopt what’s known as Kayden’s Law.

But so far in Olympia there is no momentum on the bill that many would agree is a good idea.

Local advocates are asking why and FOX 13 went looking for answers.

What is Kayden's Law?

In 2018, a Pennsylvania father killed his daughter in a murder-suicide. But Kayden’s mother believes it could have been avoided if the courts had just listened. She warned the courts of past abuse, but the father was still granted unsupervised visits.  That lead to Kayden’s murder.

The 7-year-old’s story reached the halls of Congress and by 2022 President Biden signed Kayden’s Law. 

It is the first time the federal government recognized the need to improve the family court crisis and is willing to provide money to states that adopt Kayden’s Law and improve child safety.

"If the UN has decided Kayden’s Law is the model or if our Congress says this is the model, we believe so much that we are going to give your state hundreds of thousands of dollars for training why aren’t we doing that?" Kayden’s Law advocate Dana Tingey said.

Senator Phil Fortunato is asking the same question and is the key sponsor of SB 5879.

The bill hopes to unlock federal dollars available for the training of superior court judges in our state.

"Kayden’s Law goes back and says they have to go through certain training to recognize certain behavioral aspects," Sen. Fortunato said.

Fortunato says it would train judges on not just physical and sexual abuse but patterns that show emotional abuse and coercion.

"The next step we definitely need Kayden’s Law, give the judges the tools to do their jobs better," Chuck Cox said.

Cox sat down exclusively with FOX 13 this week. He believes something like Kayden’s Law could have prevented Josh Powell from having the opportunity to carry out the horrific murders of his grandsons Charlie and Braden in 2012.

"Kayden’s Law would have prevented all of that, they would have been awake and alert to the emotional abuse," Cox said.

Cox’s fight over the years has been with the Department of Social and Health Services and holding the department accountable for their failure to protect the boys, but Cox says extra training for judges is pivotal.

Cox points out that judges hold a lot of power and discretion. He also says people can’t sue judges, so it’s even more important they are educating themselves on the job.

SB 5879 was referred to the Law and Justice committee during the start of the legislative session. But there has been no movement or word on a hearing since then.

FOX 13 reached out to Senator Manka Dhingra’s office about its future. She is the chair of that committee and has the power to put the issue up for a discussion or not.

"This doesn’t make sense to me, we need Kayden’s Law to get a hearing and at least get the committee to hear it, ask us the questions," Tingey said.  

Dhingra sent a statement to FOX 13.

"In a short session, we try our best to coordinate policy with the House so that we can get the most done in the time we have. Law & Justice has 85 bills referred to committee so far, so not all bills can get a hearing, but the policy will be discussed. Rep. Taylor has been working closely with the judges and the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence for a year on a bill on this issue — HB 2237. I would encourage people to get involved as that legislation goes through the hearing process."

The house bill Dhingra is pointing to is a separate one and does not specifically address Kayden’s Law. 

From Dhingra’s statement it appears SB 5879 will not get a hearing this legislative session.

FOX 13 also reached out to the Superior Court Judges Association.

King County Superior Court Judge Sean O’Donnell released this statement. He is the co-chair of the SCJA Legislative Committee.

"It’s a good idea to invest in robust, ongoing, education for judicial officers – and the Legislature really drives that effort with funding.  As judges, we want to get the law right – and that’s especially true when trauma is involved, like domestic violence and sexual assault cases.  SB 5879 may be one of the ways to focus on these education issues, but collectively the Superior Court judges have not taken a position on the bill.  We enthusiastically support more funding for judicial education – and we’re grateful that the Legislature is considering ways it can help."

Judge O’Donnell also shared some interesting facts. He says there are more than 200 judicial officers in superior courts across the state.

He says over in the last decade, about 80% of the judges statewide are new to the job and over half have less than 5 years experience.

O’Donnell says the state education budget for those judges hasn’t changed since 2008.