Restraining Orders in the age of COVID-19
The courts are closed, but still opened for emergency business. In the normal world when a person needs a restraining order they can go to the court house and fill out a form and affidavit. The affidavit is a sworn statement from the plaintiff outlining the reasons a restraining order is needed.
Now courts are closed. The court system and their staff has not been immune to the COVID-19 crisis. As some judges and court personnel has contracted the virus, many courts are now closed. In order to still accommodate certain emergency situations, the courts are mostly doing hearings over the phone.
Restraining orders are included in emergency cases that are still being processed by the court. Many courts are not allowing anyone from the public to come into court. Instead opting to have the initial hearing of the plaintiff by phone conference. When a person first applies for a restraining order the judge must assess if there is sufficient reason to issue the order. This initial order is temporary and then the restraining order is set up for a two party hearing.
At the two party hearing both the plaintiff the person requesting the restraining order and the defendant, the person the restraining order is sought against have a right to be heard. Usually the two party hearing is set up for no longer than 2 weeks from the date of application.
Most courts are either waiting to do the two party hearing later on, or conducting the two party hearing over the phone. For the defendant the COVID-19 crisis creates major disadvantages. If the hearing is delayed, the temporary order is still in affect. That means the defendant never had a chance to be heard, yet a restraining order with the full force of the law is still being used against them.
Second, telephone hearings can be difficult for everyone, but can be particularly devastating to a defendant. Being in court and being able to face one's accuser is an important right that people have. Not being present in the court room also makes it difficult for the defendant to prepare and argue against the restraining order.
Though restraining orders are civil, the violation of a restraining order is a criminal offense. A restraining order can affect a person in many different ways. A person can have trouble getting a job, obtaining a firearms license or affect a family court matter to name a few. In these uncertain times, if you know that a restraining order is filed against you, don't go at it alone, make sure you have the best defense possible.