TAMPA - For victims of domestic violence, going to court and facing your accuser can be intimidating. An ABC Action News investigation is raising questions about how victims are being treated in one Hillsborough County courtroom.
When we visited the Tampa courtroom of Judge Nick Nazaretian one recent morning, he was nothing but calm, collected, and respectful to everyone.
However, comments made at a hearing last March in a domestic violence case have some others on the bench raising their eyebrows: “I cry when I have to pay my tax bills. I have to pay for all of this. All the money I work hard for. It's not fair to me. I didn't do anything wrong. I have to pay for you all's fun. That's not right. It's not," Nazaretian said during a hearing last March.
"The focus of the hearing was about everything but those safety issues and that's a concern," says Jerry Bowles, a family court judge in Louisville, KY.
Nazaretian is a county judge whose courtroom is packed daily with misdemeanor domestic violence cases.
In one case, a victim was 19. The issue was whether to drop a 'no contact' order, prohibiting her teenage boyfriend, who allegedly beat her for a third time, from seeing her.
"I'm going to bust this whole thing up. It's ridiculous. I have to work and pay taxes for that, financially supporting this thing myself, this enterprise," Nazaretian said.
Instead, the judge spent about half the hearing on the fact the teenage couple has a child and is on public assistance.
Nazaretian was asked a question. "The fact you pay taxes -- what does that have to do with whether or not this woman was battered?” “Well, I say a lot of things in court. I wish I could tell you why I say things in court," he replied.
Judge Nazaretian was more than willing to discuss the matter with us. He doesn't believe he said anything out of line.
"It does seem, with respect, that you were more concerned that you were paying the bill,” we mentioned.
The judge replied, “I was more concerned the money was not going to where it was supposed to be going."
This isn't the only issue raising questions.
"What the 'you know what' is going on with this case? She's 19. She looks likes she's 12. I don't think she's 19," he went on to say in the hearing.
Judge Nazaretian appeared concerned about whether the victim could prove her age. "I'm going to need some ID on her," he told the court.
And why the teenager, who has obvious disabilities, couldn't clearly pronounce the name of her High School.
"You don't even know the name of your high school,” Nazaretian said to the alleged victim in the case. “I know the name it's just hard to say,” she replied.
Linda Osmundson of the St. Petersburg-based domestic violence organization CASA is concerned how an alleged victim of domestic violence is being treated in a courtroom by a judge.
"The judge makes it sound like there's something wrong with her and doesn't allow her to tell the truth and treating her like she's the perpetrator," Osmundson says.
By the end of the hearing, Judge Nazaretian lifted the no-contact order over the objections of the prosecutor.
That decision disturbs Judge Jerry Bowles, a family court judge in Louisville, Kentucky who travels the nation training judges on how to handle domestic violence cases. We asked him to listen to the court audio.
"The prosecutor reported a no-contact order violation that occurred since the arrest, that never became the subject of the litigation," Bowles says.
"She wanted to see him and I made that decision," Nazaretian told us.
This wasn't the only case where we discovered Judge Nazaretian personalizing the issue at hand. In another domestic violence case, he asks a woman accused of threatening her husband with a knife.
"Where do you get the money for the alcohol? From the disability check I pay for?” Nazaretian said during another hearing last June.
Judge Nazaretian wouldn't discuss that case because it's still open. But he does say "I will always look back at what I do in court and examine that. I will try to be a better judge everyday. I'm still human,” he says.
In the end, Judge Nazaretian found the young woman's boyfriend not guilty of assaulting her, after she testified she couldn't remember what happened.
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