By Timothy Cox
Mercer County officials say the recent firing of a county courtroom victim's advocate was a budget move, not a result of souring relations between the advocate and probate Judge Mary Pat Zitter.
Carol Rosenbeck, who had spent two years as a full-time advocate, was let go in early March in what Prosecuting Attorney Andy Hinders called a "reduction in force." Falling caseloads in recent years allowed the office to reduce its staff to only one full-time advocate, Hinders said.
There are no intentions to fill Rosenbeck's former job, he said.
But an eyewitness who has been inside the courtroom with Zitter and Rosenbeck said the tension between the two women was obvious. The victim also said Rosenbeck had told her Zitter was upset that victims were in the courtroom.
"The judge was informed that we were waiting downstairs for the hearing to begin, but she went ahead with the sentencing anyway," said the woman, whose name is being kept anonymous to protect the identity of her daughter, who was a victim of a sex crime. "It was Carol who brought us into the courtoom at that point as the judge was about to read the sentence." Rosenbeck declined to comment for this story.
Zitter denied any personal conflicts with Rosenbeck.
"Absolutely not. Carol was a very zealous advocate and I have a lot of respect for her," Zitter said, adding she would have no problem with Rosenbeck working again in her courtroom.
As for the victim's family's claims they were left out of key portions of the proceedings, Zitter defended her record in allowing victims to excercise their rights.
"I read every single statement that comes in from victims," she said.
Emotions can sometimes run high in court hearings, Zitter said, which may lead to misperceptions about the relationships between the people working in the court.
"Sometimes people don't understand the things that are permitted and the things that are not," Zitter said. "Victims have to know they are being heard ... but also must follow court procedures and court courtesy."
Hinders admitted the mindsets of victims advocates and judges do not necessarily mix, but stopped short of saying there were problems between Zitter and Rosenbeck. Such issues are confidential, internal matters, he said.
"Carol's a real zealous person and it's common to see differences of opinion between advocates and judges," Hinders said.
Rosenbeck's job was not eliminated because of problems with her performance or because of her relationship with Zitter, Hinders said. There are no reprimands of any kind in Rosenbeck's personnel file. A "phenomenol drop-off" in cases led to reduced demand for victim advocacy services, Hinders said.
Rosenbeck earned about $22,600 annually.