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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Revised domestic violence bill passed

    PHOENIX – The Arizona Senate passed a bill on domestic violence last week that at one point would have forced victims of domestic violence to face their abusers in court before a restraining order could be granted.

    The author of SB 1097 said some resentful spouses are filing restraining orders against their former spouses in order to win court cases, despite the fact that there were no acts of violence committed. The only way to counter false claims, the author contends, would be to force both parties to be present when the argument for a restraining order is made.

    Victim’s rights advocates managed to strip away a considerable portion of the bill before it was passed, including removing the part that would have required the hearings to be attended by both parties of the restraining order.

    (Violating a restraining order is) a black mark on (the abuser’s) record.
    – Sen. Karen Johnson, R-Mesa

    The section of the bill that remains and was approved by the Senate will instead require the state to inform those served with a restraining order that only the court can dissolve it.

    The primary sponsor of the bill, Sen. Karen Johnson, R-Mesa, said many served with orders of protection do not understand that only the court can dissolve a restraining order.

    Johnson painted a scenario in which a defendant who has been previously served with a restraining order would be contacted by the victim and tricked into meeting his or her accuser despite a court order not to.

    The victim, according to Johnson, would pretend to forgive his or her abuser and act like he or she was willing to reconcile, thus prompting the abuser to break the restraining order. Upon arriving to meet, the abuser is met by the police and is cited for violating his or her restraining order.

    “”It’s a black mark on their record,”” Johnson said.

    She said secondary charges from this trap, in addition to the original restraining order, give the bitter spouse the upper hand in his or her court cases.

    The author of the bill, Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, defended the original version of the bill, saying the current judicial system is biased in favor of victims. He said the system allows a victim to see the judge and ask for a restraining order without requiring abusers to be present to defend themselves.

    Pearce said that restraining orders are being abused by vengeful spouses who make false claims to punish their estranged spouses in divorce and child custody proceedings.

    He said the bitter spouses are being told by lawyers to seek restraining orders to get their spouses out of the house and deny them access to the children.

    Pearce, a former Justice of the Peace in Mesa, said the restraining order, often issued by a Justice Court judge, has unintentional effects beyond protecting victims from their abusers.

    He said the restraining order often forces abusers from home and severs the ability for a parent to see his or her children, which is a decision that should be made in a superior court with both parties present, he said.

    In cases where there is no evidence or history of domestic violence, Pearce said, a restraining order should not be issued until a judge hears both sides of the case.

    He said a lower court like a justice court should not be allowed to make these decisions, as the decisions have repercussions to the defendant beyond forbidding contact between two adults.

    Dale Wiebusch, director of systems advocacy for the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said his office was flooded with calls of concern for victims of domestic violence when the bill was released this year.

    He said the bill elicited a strong reaction from a broad spectrum of the community, saying they were concerned the bill would drag victims of domestic violence into court to face those who tormented them to receive a restraining order.

    Wiebusch said he received calls from the governor’s office, judges, social workers and victim’s rights advocates.

    He said ACADV had several meetings with Johnson, working with the sponsor to remove objectionable pieces of the bill. He said Johnson was primarily concerned with educating the defendant about his or her rights after being served with a restraining order.

    Johnson would not rule out introducing the removed portions of the bill in new legislation next year.

    The bill will now go before the House.

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