Kate Elizabeth Queram – News & Record –

GREENSBORO — Since opening its doors in June, the Guilford County Family Justice Center has helped nearly 1,800 people.

Most were female, and their needs were varied. Some came simply to learn about their options. Some had concerns about their children’s safety. But nearly a third of visitors to the center — 565 of them — were there to get help in obtaining a protective order.

The center can handle the demand, though, partly thanks to a recently implemented electronic filing system that drastically decreases the processing time and bureaucracy typically involved with getting a restraining order, known in legal terms as a “50B.”

Traditionally, obtaining a protective order went something like this: A victim would fill out several forms (by hand) and submit them (by hand) to the Guilford County Clerk of Court. The victim then delivered those forms (by hand) to a judge in a different building, then waited until the judge became available to grant or deny the order. If the restraining order were to be granted, the victim then would carry (by hand) the paperwork over to the sheriff’s office.

This electronic filing system streamlines that process.

When a person visits the Family Justice Center to obtain a protective order, he or she immediately is placed with a victim’s advocate, who helps fill out the necessary forms electronically, then the applicant through several video conference calls — with the clerk of courts, with the judge — to file the order.

“After the case is heard, the judge will either grant or deny the order,” said Catherine Johnson, the center’s executive director. “If it’s granted, there’s an electronic signature from the judge to the clerk. They have the order they can now access electronically, and the victim is done.”

Throughout the process, the victim never leaves the building. Most orders are served the same day.

“One of the neat features about electronic filing is that once the sheriff’s office serves the defendant the paperwork, a client can be notified via text or email,” Johnson said. “It’s a huge benefit. That whole process of walking around to different places with documentation has been eliminated.”

This system was developed in Alamance County several years ago. Guilford County Chief District Court Judge Wendy Enochs began lobbying last year for the program to expand here, Johnson said, and it was implemented in August.

Guilford is the second county in the state to launch the program and was picked in part because the system perfectly fits the mission of the justice center.

The center, which provides dozens of services for victims of domestic and family violence, opened to the public June 15. A collaborative effort between the county and the city of Greensboro, the center houses a multitude of agencies and care providers, with the goal of making the justice system easier for victims to navigate.

On-site agencies include the Family Services of the Piedmont, the Greensboro Child Response Initiative, Greensboro Police Department’s Family Victims Unit, six deputies from the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office, nurses from Cone Health, social workers from the Department of Health and Human Services, and representatives from the Greensboro Child Advocacy Center, Elon University School of Law, Legal Aid of North Carolina and the Children’s Law Center of North Carolina.

People can seek different kinds of help and guidance at one location on South Greene Street rather than being bounced from place to place around the county.

“They selected Guilford County (for e-filing) because of our judge leadership, but also as a result of the establishment of the Family Justice Center,” Johnson said. “Obviously, with the electronic filing, you need strong collaboration among community partners, which we stress.”