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Panel orders lower court to enforce protective order

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Highlighting a bias in state statute relating to protective orders, the Indiana Court of Appeals has held that an accuser’s request for a civil contempt hearing against someone alleged to have violated a protective order can’t be tied to any other criminal or civil proceedings under way or available in the future.

The three-judge appellate decision came today in S.W. by P.W. v. B.K., No. 71A03-1012-PO-655, which comes from St. Joseph Superior Judge Roland Chamblee and Magistrate Brian Steinke.

This case involves a developmentally disabled adult named S.W. who shares an apartment with another developmentally disabled woman as part of a semi-independent living program. P.W., the woman’s sister, obtained a protective order following September 2010 incidents in which B.K. came to the apartment late at night and pounded on the door, trying to enter and yelling for S.W. to come to the door. The South Bend Police Department responded. The ex parte protective order prohibited B.K. from stalking, harassing, annoying, contacting, or visiting the residence. B.K. apparently disregarded the order and returned to the apartment at least twice in November and displayed similar behavior.

P.W. filed a petition for B.K. to appear for a hearing to show cause why he shouldn’t be held in contempt for violating the protective order, and with that petition P.W. filed affidavits supporting the request and also asked for attorney fees. The trial court denied her petition the same day without a hearing, stating that the protective order violations were criminal matters that should be handled by the prosecutor’s office. She filed a motion to correct error and the trial court denied that motion on the same grounds.

On appeal, the appellate panel addressed S.W.’s claim that her due-process rights were violated by the trial court’s refusal to hold a hearing on the alleged indirect civil contempt accusation. The panel explored Indiana Code 34-47-3-5 that lists an array of notice requirements for the accused and how that person must be served with the court order he or she is accused of violating and the specific facts outlined in the accusation.

“Interestingly, the indirect civil contempt statute addresses due process issues, but only in terms of preserving the due process rights of the person accused of contempt,” Judge Terry Crone wrote for the panel that included Judge Edward Najam and Chief Judge Margret Robb. “Absent from the statute is any express language indicating that the accuser is entitled to a hearing.”

The judges agreed with S.W’s citation of I.C. 34-47-5-6 that says in part, “an order for protection is in addition to, and not instead of, another available civil or criminal proceeding… A petitioner is not barred from seeking an order (of protection) because of another pending proceeding.”

“We do not find any parallel provision in the contempt statute, but find the statute instructive,” the court wrote in its footnote, expanding on what it wrote in the opinion itself. “The record does not indicate the specifics of any criminal proceedings against (B.K.) or whether they are still pending, and we do not believe that the decision to grant or deny a civil contempt petition should be based on such collateral matters. Instead, the petition should be valued independently, without reference to other proceedings that may or may not otherwise protect the person for whose safety the original protective order was issued.”

The judges also determined S.W. should be reimbursed her $250 appellate filing fee because this appeal is based on the trial court’s refusal to enforce the protective order against B.K. and that’s what is being reversed and remanded here.

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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