While the prosecutors begin to build their cases against the defendants, Katie Ritter and Gabby Butler, the two victim's advocates at the State's Attorney's Office, pick up their phones and call the victims.

For every alleged crime in Carroll County, there is an alleged victim.

Once a alleged crime occurs and a person or people are arrested, a file lands on the desk of one of the prosecutors at the Carroll County State's Attorney's Office. In the same office, a file lands on the desk of one of the two victim's advocates.

Advertisement

While the prosecutors begin to build their cases against the defendants, Katie Ritter and Gabby Butler, the two victim's advocates at the State's Attorney's Office, pick up their phones and call the alleged victims.

Butler is the domestic violence victim's advocate. Ritter works with alleged victims from cases that are prosecuted in the Carroll County Circuit Court.

"Generally, we're the middleman between the victim and the attorney," Ritter said.

Being the middleman means the two women have to wear a lot of hats, she said. They are there to answer questions, listen to the alleged victim, keep alleged victims informed about the court process and help with other proceedings and processes during the period before, during and sometimes after a court trial or hearing, they said.

For Butler, the day starts off by fielding cases. She speaks with alleged victims about filing protection orders and tells them to call her if the defendant contacts them. For alleged victims already in the middle of the court proceedings, she'll go and sit with them in court.

After a court date, Butler will also help alleged victims with resources if needed, she said.

"No case is the same. No day is the same," she said. "No victim is the same."

Senior Assistant Brenda Harkavy, who prosecutes the majority of domestic violence cases, said Butler is the go-to person for the alleged victim. Having a victim's advocate helps the process feel less lonely for the alleged victim and also gives the alleged victim a person to talk to without feeling judged, she said.

"There's not a sense we're going to make them feel bad about their decisions," Harkavy said.

Butler also has to work with alleged victims who aren't always reliable and sometimes don't want to testify or bring charges against an alleged abuser, she said.

Ritter works with those affected by different types of crimes, from the alleged victims in robbery and theft cases to the families of homicide victims. She's been there 1 1/2 years and said she is still taken by surprise.

"Each case is different and each victim is special," Ritter said.

Circuit Court Chief attorney Allan Culver said having the victim's advocate makes the prosecutor's job easier because it keeps the witnesses and alleged victims up to date. Prosecutors often focus on what they need from the alleged victim or victims for a case, but the victim's advocate focuses on what alleged victims need, Culver said.

The victim's advocates, who are not attorneys, are important to the prosecutors in the State's Attorney's Office because they answer questions for the alleged victims and provide a shoulder to lean on or an ear to listen, State's Attorney Brian DeLeonardo said.

Advertisement

"When we deal with people who have been victimized by a crime, we try really hard to not have them victimized again by the court system," DeLeonardo said.

Ritter and Butler said that the alleged victim can be ignored by the criminal justice system. Alleged victims have rights when it comes to a criminal proceeding, but there is a balance between a fair trial and allowing the alleged victim these rights, she said.

Often alleged victims are witnesses, and in many cases, witnesses are sequestered during a trial, meaning they are not allowed to watch the proceedings and instead have to wait outside the courtroom. It's done so that witnesses' testimonies aren't influence by what goes on in the courtroom, but it's difficult to explain to alleged victims that they have a right to sit through the trial, but they have to sit outside because of sequestering, Ritter said.

Katie Ritter, left, Circuit Court Victim/Witness Advocate and Gabby Butler, Special Victims Unit Advocate for the State's Attorney's Office, photographed in front of the Carroll County District Court in Westminster Monday, August 29, 2016.
Katie Ritter, left, Circuit Court Victim/Witness Advocate and Gabby Butler, Special Victims Unit Advocate for the State's Attorney's Office, photographed in front of the Carroll County District Court in Westminster Monday, August 29, 2016. (DYLAN SLAGLE/STAFF PHOTO / Carroll County Times)

For Ritter, some of the challenging parts of her job come from alleged victims asking why a defendant did what they did, she said. For Butler, it can be difficult to work with uncooperative or scared alleged victims. Some will end up yelling at her or won't want to go forward with testimony due to feelings for the defendant or fear of the defendant, she said.

There are also problems within the criminal justice system, they said. One of the problems is postponement and the length of time a court case can take.

Cases often resurface and the victim's advocates have to reach out to the alleged victims in the cases again.

"It's not fun to remind them of that terrible time, but they want to be notified," Ritter said.

They are also trying to balance several cases they have as part of their caseload.

"It's a lot to juggle ... there's a lot of cases," Ritter said.

During the week, she can be found in courtrooms at the Circuit Court for multiple cases. If there's a trial, she'll likely sit in during the entire time. On a regular criminal docket, she can float between multiple cases.

She said the most she's had to jump between was three different cases.

She said she is honest and upfront with the alleged victims, letting them know when she might have to run to another case. And she's not alone in her work. Butler and the attorneys help her handle her workload, and there's a District Court advocate who can lend a hand when needed, Ritter and Butler said.

"Our attorneys are really good about making sure our victims are taken care of," Ritter said.

She said she is always thinking about the alleged victims she works with, and it's similar with Butler.

Butler said she tries and prioritizes cases, at the same time trying to reach out to an alleged victim within 24 hours of their case landing on her desk. Her work phone is always on.

"The day is never long enough," Butler said.

Butler's busiest court day is on Wednesday each week for the domestic violence dockets. She said she makes mental notes about serious cases.

The two are there to help each other on busy days, but also provide each other support.

"Gabby and I share an office, so it's sort of our safe space. We can yell and rant at each other," Ritter said.

To combat the stress of the job, Ritter said she likes to exercise, while Butler said she likes to be around animals and talk to people about her job, without going into the details of cases.

The two say it's important that victim's advocates don't take work home with them and learn not to take the angry calls personally. The job requires being a people person, they said.

DeLeonardo said the two are good victim's advocates "because they're very caring individuals."

"They're very empathetic, which is what that position needs to be," he said.

And while the job can be stressful, Ritter and Butler said there are good aspects, too.

Advertisement

Butler said the moment an alleged victim comes back and says they're ready to tell the truth about what happened to them is a highlight of her job.

It's also the little signs of appreciation, like receiving a card or a note, because it's not expected, Ritter said.

"It's the little things," she said.

The best part of their job they said is when they get the thanks from an alleged victim or an indication they helped, regardless of the outcome of the case.

"Just that hug and that genuine thank you," Ritter said. "We made them feel special and appreciated."

heather.mongilio@carrollcountytimes.com

410-857-7898

twitter.com/hmongilio

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement