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High court considers whether permanent protective orders are forever

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ATLANTA — Thousands of battered wives across Georgia could be surprised to learn that the permanent protective order courts have issued to keep their husbands or boyfriends away may not be permanent after all.

Monday, the Georgia Supreme Court heard arguments over whether judges should have the power to end the protective orders. There’s never been a case on this particular issue, according to lawyer Brad Sperr.

He is representing Lynda Mandt who got a permanent protective order in 2007 against her boyfriend William Roderick Lovell after four years of hearings. She alleged that, even though he fathered her child, he had repeatedly strangled her, hit her, kicked her stomach while pregnant and threatened to kill her since 2003.

Two years after the order became permanent, Lovell asked a different court to remove it because he had cleaned up his life and never wanted to see her again anyway. He told the new judge he was embarrassed by the court order, and that it kept him from getting a job and dates when people learned of it.

Lovell’s lawyer didn’t show up for Monday’s arguments at the Supreme Court, but several of the justices challenged Sperr about what Mandt wants.

They debated whether the General Assembly had intended it to be permanent, as the name suggests, or if lawmakers expected judges to modify or remove them as they often did under the unwritten common law with permanent injunctions, an older type of court order used more in business cases.

“We can’t assume the legislature wanted to treat it differently,” said Justice Harold Melton.

“They didn’t have to because it’s a matter of common law,” Justice David Nahmias said.

Chief Justice Carol Hunstein, the only woman on the court, noted the Family Violence Act that created the permanent protective orders has no provision for removing them. She said, “The statute is plain on its face, isn’t it?” Nahmias made up a situation in which a couple that once fought eventually reconciled in their old age. If a permanent protective order could never be changed, then they couldn’t attend a grandchild’s baptism, even with mutual agreement, he said.

Hunstein replied, “Who would make a complaint in that case?” Sperr told the justices that, at the very least, courts should have to follow some procedures before they can remove a permanent protective order. He recommended they require a waiting period first and determine if the boyfriend or husband had undergone anger management or psychological counseling.

“There must be substantive, procedural safeguards for these termination actions so they are consistent with the Family Violence Act and will protect victims,” Sperr said. “There must be a minimum, threshold requirement for a termination action that relates to whether or not family violence is going to occur and not simply whether or not a (boyfriend) is burdened.” Whatever the Supreme Court decides to do, it won’t announce it for about four months. It’s likely that legislators will have a bill drafted by the time they return in January to address whatever the decision is.


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