Schizo: How Judges Think about Restraining Orders

Posted on August 23, 2014

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It’s often reported by recipients of restraining orders that the cops and constables who serve them recognize they’re stigmatizing.

Restraining order respondents receive court orders “around the corner” or in parking lots or other spots remote from prying eyes.

At the same time, restraining orders are dispensed by our courts as freely as supermarket circulars. They’re typically issued ex parte, which means judges never even meet the parties they’re issued against. Sometimes respondents never appear in court at all. They remain simply inked names on forms, despite the fact that the allegations made against them, which are matters of public record, may be grave.

Judges issue restraining orders and then wash their hands of them and expect them to just run their courses and evaporate. In accordance with the law, they don’t…ever. They’re permanent public records (in some states accessible by anyone, and in no states accessible by no one). They’re further entered into state and federal law enforcement databases (again, permanently).

Restraining orders cost people employment (and, in cases, employability in their chosen fields). They cost people leases. And they cost people their children, assets, social credibility, and health. These are serious consequences, and restraining orders are of course regarded seriously by anyone who learns of them—except, that is, officers of the court, who may regard them dismissively…after having regarded them as urgent, life-or-death matters.

“Obscure public records” is how some officers of the court think of restraining orders. In the age of the Internet, there are no such things. Many judges are in their 60s and 70s, however, and scarcely know the first thing about the Internet, let alone Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. They’re still living in the days of mimeographs and microfiche.

The sternness that judges exhibit in the courtroom upon finalizing restraining orders may border on brutal. Irrespective of the allegations against them, all restraining order defendants are treated like villains. Yet though they’re often falsely accused, they’re expected to be unfazed by this treatment. Down the road, what’s more, if defendants seek damages, other judges who revisit their cases may express wonderment at what the big deal is.

“It’s only a restraining order.”

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