Judges get more power with protective orders State law extends time to 12 months

October 02, 1997|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

Changes in Maryland's domestic violence laws, which took effect yesterday, give judges added leverage to use protective orders to bar abusers from assaulting or harassing their victims.

The modifications in the Family Law Article permit judges to issue a protective order for up to 12 months -- an increase from the previous maximum of 200 days -- and give authority for a protective order to be extended for an additional six months.

In Carroll County, where three people were killed in Hampstead during two unrelated domestic violence incidents in May and June, State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes applauded the changes.

Many potentially violent domestic situations are not resolved quickly because it takes time to accomplish reconciliation, or a peaceful separation, said Barnes.

One of the parties may have to adjust to drastic changes in lifestyle. That's especially true for single parents who have to provide for children, or where the victims of abuse need time to seek employment or find a new residence, he said.

"The more time the courts can have to maintain some control over the abuser, the better for the victims of domestic violence," Barnes said.

Circuit Judges Raymond E. Beck Sr. and Luke K. Burns Jr. said yesterday that the extended time is welcome for severe cases, but both said they worry that unscrupulous lawyers will urge clients to seek lengthy protective orders as a substitute for a quick divorce.

"We [himself, Burns and Circuit Judge Francis M. Arnold] take these domestic violence cases very seriously," Beck said. "Some are frivolous, and we have to weed them out, but some are very serious."

Before protective orders are issued, a temporary order known in fTC courthouse jargon as an "ex parte" is issued for 10 days, allowing the court time to schedule a hearing between the parties involved.

The latest statistics available from the Administrative Office of the Courts in Annapolis -- those for fiscal year 1996 -- show Carroll County Circuit Court judges held 286 ex parte hearings, the third-highest behind Baltimore City and Montgomery County.

Carroll judges granted 221 ex parte orders, or 77 percent. Of 223 protective orders considered, 137 were granted (61.4 percent), according to the report.

Burns noted that all three judges have been known to recess jury trials to hold emergency ex parte hearings.

The judges find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to make monumental decisions during a five-minute ex parte hearing, or a 30-minute protective order hearing, that will determine who can live in the family's house, or who will have custody of the children, Beck said.

"When both parties have lawyers and witnesses to testify, I've had protective order hearings that lasted seven hours," he said.

Both judges agreed that most of the the latest changes in the Family Law Article are sensible and have been needed.

One -- extending the scope of protective orders to include the yard, grounds, outbuildings and common areas around the residence of the victim -- has already been adhered to in Carroll County, Beck said.

The new rules also require that temporary orders include notice of the consequences for the alleged abuser who may not be present at ex parte hearings. The alleged offender also must be notified of the possible duration and extension of a temporary order and that he or she is obligated to make any change of address known to the court.

Pub Date: 10/02/97

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