Legal experts would like to stem misuse of ex parte orders of protection

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Documents are issued by a court judge to help protect a victim from an abuser or harasser.

Shelby McBride sees "frequent flyers" in and out of her Common Pleas Courthouse office to file ex parte orders of protection on a daily basis.

The Cape Girardeau County circuit clerk knows victims of abuse exist. But she believes 80 percent of the people who enter her office to file aren't the actual victims.

"I think a lot of what we deal with are people who just want to fight in court," she said. "They need to be educated on what orders of protection actually are."

Ex parte orders of protection are documents issued by a court judge to help protect a victim from an abuser or harasser. Or they can be issued to protect an abused child from an abusive parent or guardian.

Within the last four months, approximately 200 ex parte orders of protection were filed in Cape Girardeau County. However, a majority of those cases were dropped before they reached the courtroom, McBride said. "More than half of the petitioners didn't even show up for their court hearings or they called a week before to drop the charges."

On Monday, McBride, Judge Benjamin F. Lewis and Karen Buchheit, a victim's advocate for the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Office, spoke about ex parte orders of protection at the quarterly meeting of the Domestic Violence Community Response Task Force. The meeting was held in connection with the National Crime Victims' Rights Week and Child Abuse Prevention Month.

Lewis explained that ex parte orders of protection are temporary until the court grants full orders of protection. Those eligible to file for an order of protection are adults subject to abuse from family members or another member living inside the household.

If the abuser breaks the order of protection, charges range from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class D felony, Lewis said.

The panel of speakers said when a child order of protection is filed that a majority of the time the parents are typically in the middle of a custody battle.

"None of us are saying there aren't people with legitimate reasons for filing these. We're all for helping people who are abused," Lewis said. But when numerous cases are handled day in and day out, Lewis said, it's hard to tell when the system is being abused.

Betty Brown, court advocate and case manager for Cape Girardeau's Safe House for Women, said some victims are intimidated by the abuser and will drop the ex parte order of protection.

"Some victims fall through the cracks, and we do wish these protection orders were bullet-proof," Buchheit said. "It takes educating these victims and letting them know there are people who care and can help them."

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