Starting Jan. 1, Dent County will have a full-time advocate to help crime victims through the judicial process.
Cynthia Nash, a member of prosecuting attorney Andrew Curley’s staff, has been promoted to the newly created victim advocate position, with the cost reimbursed by a state Victim of Crimes Act. For the past four years, Lisa Mason has held the position in a time-sharing arrangement with Iron County.
“During that four-year process I had been pushing for a single advocate for Dent County because our numbers supported it,” Curley told The Salem News. “We had more than 200 victims of crime cases. You could see the writing on the wall. I needed someone here full time to accommodate these kinds of cases.”
He noted that the judicial circuit is spread out, with long travel distances, no cell service and the advocate forced to spend a large amount of time driving from county to county.
Until now, 74 Missouri counties were participating in the VOCA grant program. Sixteen more applied for the latest round of grant funding and Dent was one of five selected for a full-time advocate grant, bringing the total to 79.
Nash joined Curley’s office as an unpaid intern, working her way up to a full-time position as legal assistant. She has an associate’s degree in paralegal studies from Keiser University in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, where she graduated with high honors and a 4.0 grade point average. Nash is a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.
Curley said he applied for the victim advocate grant with her in mind for the new job.
“When I thought we had a chance, I started having serious conversations with her about what it would look like,” he said.
With his budget constraints, he has funding for two full-time staff, one part-time position and an assistant prosecutor, he said.
“We spend a lot of our time processing cases and the ability to get hands on is somewhat limited,” Curley said. “It feels like I never have enough time with my victims to explain to them the process.”
Due to the volume of cases, he needed someone to spend time with crime victims all the way through the legal process, fostering his office’s relationship with them in order to get positive results in court, he said.
“I’m extremely excited about the position,” Nash said. “I’m very grateful I’ve been given this opportunity.”
She’s most excited about actually being able to work with the victims one-on-one and with their families.
“I want to walk them through that process from beginning to end,” Nash said. “And that means going with them to court and helping them understand the judicial system. When somebody is victimized, it’s very traumatic, and if they’re not familiar with the court system, that can be traumatic, too. I want to be there for the victim from the beginning and make it as painless as possible for them.”
That includes telling them when they need to be in court for the preliminary hearing, along with the bond hearing dates, trial dates and other information they need all the way through sentencing, she said. Nash will also handle the data entry required for the online court-case management system.
“In the long run, when you work with a victim and their family and you help them come to a place of stability, you’ve made a positive impact on the community,” she said. “I have a real heart for hurting people, and getting them the help they need so they can become whole again and move on with their lives after the trial or the case is over with.”
Curley pointed out that he and his assistant prosecutor spend a lot of time in court. Getting questions from victims answered is difficult to do. Victim advocates can send prosecutors specific questions via email and get them answered in a timely manner, he said. They can also relay information from the victim that’s needed in court.
“Right now, we spend the majority of our time moving the case from point A to point B, filing necessary motions, working discovery, sending recommendations out and getting depositions, so (having an advocate) literally gives us a chance to spend more time with the victim,” he said.
There is a flurry of activity involving the victim in the beginning, but after charges are filed and the litigation process begins, victims don’t see much activity.
“In their minds we’re doing nothing on the case because they haven’t heard from anybody,” Curley said. “But the truth is we’re on the case every month, we’re prosecuting it, moving it as quickly as we can. Having someone that’s calling them up through the process to check on them, that’s a big deal.”
Nash will begin mandatory annual training for the position in Jefferson City in January through the Missouri Office of Prosecution Services.