Family Justice Center opens in White Plains

Starting today, victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking in Westchester County will have a centralized place to get legal advice, counseling, shelter, child care and other services — all for free.

The county’s Office for Women opened its highly-touted Family Justice Center this afternoon in the “low-rise” building in the Westchester County Courthouse. With a $1 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women, the justice center replaces the intake unit in Family Court with a “one-stop shop” for victims’ needs. By merging such services under one roof, victims no longer will have to bounce from agency to agency repeating their story of abuse.

The family justice center will have victim advocates — including those who are bilingual — who specialize in stalking, elder abuse, disabled victims and immigration. The Pace Women’s Justice Center, Legal Services of the Hudson Valley, Empire Justice Center, My Sisters’ Place, Hope’s Door, Victims Assistance Services and the Department of Social Services will have staff on-site, along with volunteers from the Interfaith Caring Community of Greenburgh.

District Attorney Janet DiFiore said putting these services under one roof — a concept she has championed since 2006 — will make it easier for victims afraid to report abuse. She said the center will help prosecutors “protect victims and give them the support, services and guidance necessary to assist them in the criminal justice process.”

The center will be open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Victims will be seen by appointment only and should call 914-995-3100 to make an appointment.  Eventually the center will take walk-ins. Retired Ossining town police chief Kenneth Donato is the center’s director.

Photo: Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, left, and U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Family Justice Center. Photo courtesy of the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office.

Westchester courthouse to get $1M family center

This just in from U.S. Rep Nita Lowey … a $1 million federal grant for the county courthouse:

WASHINGTON — Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-Westchester/Rockland) today announced the Westchester County Office for Women (OFW) will receive a $1 million federal grant to establish a Family Justice Center at the White Plains Court Complex.

“The Westchester County OFW has a proven track record of providing critical assistance to victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking,” said Lowey.  “I am thrilled this grant will enable OFW to continue and expand its important work.”

Lowey assisted the Westchester County OFW’s grant application to the U.S. Department of Justice by sending a letter of support in March 2009.

In its first 10 years of existence, the OFW has served more than 8,000 women.  Additionally, 300 law students have been trained to assist women in need of assistance.

The $1 million grant will enable Westchester County to establish a Family Justice Center (FJC) at the White Plains Court Complex to expand and enhance the work of the program and provide training for police officers, prosecutors, the judiciary, advocates, and service providers.

Additionally, the Westchester County OFW will install an automated victim notification of protective orders (VNPO) system to enable victims to access the status of an order of protection 24 hours a day.  These important services will be available to the entire Westchester population of nearly 1 million people.

More endorsements for DiFiore

Westchester County’s Democratic Congressional reps came out in support of incumbent District Attorney Janet DiFiore this morning.

Here’s some of what they said, according to the press release from DiFiore’s campaign:

* U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-Harrison): “Janet has been a champion for public safety and fairness and integrity in the justice system. She and I have worked together to protect many of the most vulnerable in our community, including children and victims of domestic violence. Her skills and experiences as a prosecutor, judge, community leader, and advocate have made Janet DFiore an effective DA.”

* U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-Bronx):  “Janet DiFiore’s background as a judge, as Assistant District Attorney, and now as District Attorney has given her experience and ability to continue in that high office where she has served with distinction. She has been industrious and innovative, has promoted public safety, fairness in prosecutions, and has upheld the integrity of the office.”

* U.S. Rep. John Hall (D-Dover Plains): “She has a proven record of accomplishments such as creating a task force to investigate mortgage fraud, prosecuting environmental crimes, internet crimes, and violent felonies. I know the communities I represent are safer because of her actions.”