On the front line: District judge cited for efforts to combat domestic violence

– Legal News photo by Robert Chase

Oakland County 48th District Court Judge Diane D'Agostini recently was saluted for her work on behalf of domestic violence victims.

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

There is a poster, designed to heighten awareness of domestic violence, that fairly sums up 48th District Judge Diane D'Agostini's approach to the pervasive problem. In it is the image of a woman, covered with bruises. The message: "Don't apply make-up. Apply the law." It was the brainchild of a domestic violence victim whose case D'Agostini handled as a young assistant prosecutor.

"This has been my stance since I began work with the (Oakland County) Prosecutor's Office and now as a member of the District Court bench," D'Agostini said, just days after she was honored with the Domestic Violence Prevention Award.

The honor was presented to D'Agostini on November 2 by the Oakland County Coordinating Council Against Domestic Violence, an organization that was founded in 1994 "in order to develop and sustain a coordinated, broad-based community response" to the problem, according to Circuit Court Judge Edward Sosnick, who was among the featured speakers at the awards ceremony last week.

Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Lisa Gorcyca nominated D'Agostini for the award, praising her as someone who "stands up for victims who often lack the strength and fortitude to defend themselves" in domestic violence situations.

"This year's voting for the Council's judicial award was unanimous," Gorcyca said in presenting the award. "For the last 20 years, Judge D'Agostini has dedicated her career to public service and to the justice system. First, at the Oakland County Prosecutor's Office where she served with pride and distinction for 9 years and for the last 11 years as judge of the 48th District Court where she continues to dispense justice and protect the rights and interests of victims.

"As a result of Judge D'Agostini's intricate knowledge and understanding of domestic violence cases - not only are victims safer, but equally important, batterers' recidivism has been reduced," Gorcyca added. "The cycle of violence often ends right in Judge D'Agostini's courtroom. Her commitment and participation in the criminal justice system has made our community a better one to live, work, and raise a family."

Now in her second term on the District Court bench, D'Agostini served as an assistant prosecutor in Oakland County from 1991-2000, eventually becoming chief of the Parole Appeal Section, helping block the "release of numerous violent prisoners, including murderers, child molesters, and other dangerous" felons. She was elected to the 48th District Court bench in 2000, earning a second six-year term in 2006.

A graduate of Wayne State University, where she majored in journalism, D'Agostini earned her juris doctor with honors from the former Detroit College of Law, furthering her legal studies at Oxford University in England. She has taken pride in "teaching our youth about the law," offering an annual program for area fourth-graders titled, "Order in the Court." The program gives students a first-hand look at the judicial system in a "simple and age appropriate manner, featuring a mock trial staged by the students," according to D'Agostini, who along with her husband, Lorenzo, has two children. She also has devoted much of her energy "to educating our youth about the dangers of underage drinking and drug use," holding court sessions at area schools so that students can "view the direct ramifications of drug and alcohol use."

Yet, for all her work in the criminal justice system, Judge D'Agostini said she continues to be especially mindful of the challenges posed by domestic violence cases.

"I encourage all families to be attentive and supportive to those who suffer at the hands of abusive individuals," D'Agostini said. "No one can go it alone in these situations. There needs to be a support system in place, and we are fortunate in Oakland County to have a law enforcement community that is tuned in to the problem and is ready and able to help."

Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper also was among the featured speakers at the awards ceremony earlier this month that included a keynote address by Julie Ladwig, a domestic violence survivor who told a harrowing story of enduring more than 19 years of "verbal, emotional, and sexual abuse" by her former husband.

"I was in this fog for years," Ladwig said of the abusive relationship. "It was hard to determine what was right or wrong."

Her "journey to emerge" began in the spring of 2005 when her then-husband was arrested for attempted rape, resulting in a trial at which he was found guilty, partly based on the testimony of the couple's son.

"I'm here as a survivor," Ladwig told those on hand for the awards ceremony November 2. "People who are in abusive relationships need to know that they are not alone, that there is help out there."

Some of that help has been provided by Ladwig, who was among the recipients of the Domestic Violence Prevention Award for her volunteer efforts on behalf of victims. Other honorees saluted at the ceremony included: Sara Pope-Starnes, an assistant prosecutor with the Oakland County Prosecutor's Office; Deputy Dan Main of the Oakland County Sheriff's Department; Dr. Mary Jo Malafa of St. Joseph Mercy Oakland; Shirley Williams of Dominion Family Services; Blanca Mares of Centro Multicultural La Familia; Mark Halley, a Haven Teen Advisory Council member; and PAH!, a collaborative of HAVEN, Deam Can! And Deaf Women Advocacy Service. Ellen Yashinsky Chute of Jewish Family Services also was in the spotlight at the event, receiving the Domestic Violence Lifetime Achievement Award



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