Clermont County Commissioner David Uible recently filed a restraining order against a person who has challenged him publicly. Uible filed the protection order because he wanted to quiet one of his most public critics; not because he was threatened with violence. The case has received significant publicity because Uible is a high profile person. First amendment advocacy groups have cried foul and media outlets are questioning the veracity of Uible's request. Unfortunately the misuse of civil protection orders is all too common. Few people, however, take notice when a high profile person is not involved.
Civil protection orders being used as swords instead of shields
In our law practice, we frequently see the misuse of civil protection orders. In contested divorces, spouses frequently seek protection orders for themselves and their children in an attempt to gain a strategic advantage. A protection order can cause a parent to lose all custody rights to his or her child. Once granted, a protection is almost always used in settlement discussions with the opposing party.
Temporary protection orders are easy to obtain and it usually takes several weeks or months to obtain a full hearing. In the meantime, the person who has been served with the temporary protection order is not permitted to enter his or her residence, must continue to pay utilities for his or her residence, must keep paying all cell phone bills, and cannot remove any property from the residence without the explicit permission from the protected party. A disgruntled girlfriend or boyfriend who is seeking revenge from a recent separation can make a false accusation and gain full access to the residence. In the past year we have seen multiple accusers remove the majority of valuables from the residence under the shield of the protection order as the accused waits for his day in court.
Courts often grant protection orders
Courts are typically reluctant to deny temporary protection order requests for fear that the requesting party is in imminent danger. As a society, we all want people to be protected and we want people to feel safe. In some cases, protection orders are a necessity and should be granted. In many other cases, however, protection orders are abused. Judges and magistrates are aware of public opinion. Ohio state court judges are elected officials. If a judge denies a protection order and the person seeking the order is later hurt or killed by the accused, the judge will likely no longer have a career. The risk averse decision for a judge is to grant the protection order regardless of the consequences for the accused.