By Konstantinos Patsiopoulos
It is the day before Thanksgiving, Nov. 22, 2017. You are standing in open court seeking a Protection From Abuse (PFA) order against the shackled person in an orange jumpsuit accused of physically abusing you for years and charged with simple assault, intimidation of a witness, stalking, and harassment.
The judge presiding over your case has a long-standing policy of eliminating harassment provisions throughout all PFA orders. Your attorney knows this; however, your attorney also knows that this judge’s long-standing policy is illegal.
Fortunately for you, the judge agrees to award you a PFA order against your abuser. Unfortunately for you, as your attorney reads the provisions of the order onto the record, the judge interjects saying, “I cross out harass.” Your zealous advocate responds, “I do respectfully disagree with Your Honor,” to which the judge responds, “I don’t care. Look at the law.” As you stand in this open courtroom with the person charged with among other things, harassing you, you listen as the judge indirectly alerts your abuser that this court order will NOT include any provision prohibiting your abuser from harassing you.
As your attorney cites the sections of the law that authorizes and mandates this judge to include the “harassment” provisions in not only your order, but all PFA orders, the judge emphatically states “you are wrong.”
Fast forward to Jan. 11, 2019. On this day the Superior Court of Pennsylvania held, in N.L.M. v. F.C.D., 116 EDA 2018 (Pa. Super 2019), that the trial court abused its discretion by overriding the law when it “crossed out the word ‘harass’” from a required provision set forth in Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1905(e).
What are PFA Orders?
PFA Orders are standardized documents found in Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1905. These orders are standardized because our Pennsylvania Supreme Court understands the need to provide uniformity for state and national enforcement of PFA Orders. In N.L.M, the Superior Court recognized that the trial court effectively eliminated that uniformity and thus abused its discretion.
PFA orders contain numerous provisions for victims of abuse, for one very important reason: protection. The trial court in N.L.M. was depriving victims of a very important protection: harassment. PFA orders also include provisions, evicting and excluding your abuser from your residence, awarding temporary custody of minor children, and prohibiting your abuser from physically abusing, stalking, or threatening you. However, with the decision in N.L.M., it is now clear that all PFA orders must include all protections contained in the standardized forms found in Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1905, including protection from harassment.
Why is this decision important?
This decision is important because it eliminates a long-standing illegal policy and assures victims that their abusers “shall not abuse, harass, stalk or threaten [them]” without the consequence of going to jail for up to six months and/or paying a fine of up to $1,000. This decision also prevents judges from arbitrarily ordering piece-meal PFA orders.
Why should you care?
You should care because the zealous advocate described above embodies the representation our attorneys provide at Raffaele Puppio. If you need legal advice about obtaining a PFA order, you can be assured that our zealous advocates at Raffaele Puppio will stand up for you and your protection.
Konstantinos Patsiopoulos, or Kosta for short, joined Raffaele Puppio in 2018 as an associate with a focus in education law.