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Nov. 26, 2022

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New Washington laws streamline protection order process

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The book on protection orders in Washington has been rewritten, literally.

Two new Washington laws — E2SHB 1320, passed in 2021, and SHB 1901, passed this year — have united all the various forms of protection orders under one section of state law.

Now, no matter what kind of protection order one is seeking, the procedures for acquiring it, and the paperwork involved, is similar.

Many of the changes took place July 1.

Walla Walla County Superior Court Commissioner Patricia Fulton, who presides over protection order hearings for the court, said the changes make it easier for applicants to know they are filling out the right paperwork. She said it also codifies established case law and best practices.

Protection order background

Washington’s created a domestic violence protection order law in 1984.

That was just the start.

“We ended up with six different types of protection orders,” Fulton said.

In addition to domestic violence, there are various adult, anti-harassment, sexual assault, stalking and extreme-risk protection orders.

Fulton said procedures for each differed because there wasn’t any law that governed all six.

“They were all codified in different pockets in the state law,” Fulton said. “They were all enacted at different times and had different provisions. They had things that were the same, but a lot of things that were different.”

Each kind of protection order required its own unique form. And who needed what kind of order was not always obvious to those applying for protection.

Now, E2SHB 1320 repeals old laws governing protection orders and re-codifies them.

Fulton said SHB 1901 makes further adjustments and defines some terms mentioned but not defined in E2SHB 1320.

In addition to all types of orders now using the same form, changes were made to how law enforcement may serve these orders, how they are adjudicated and how some terms are defined.

The form

One of the most important changes is to the form. Now, someone needing a protection order can go to the Superior Court Clerk’s office and request a protection order form without knowing specifically which one to ask for.

Chalese Rabidue, the domestic violence services coordinator for the Walla Walla Police Department, said this is a good thing for abuse victims.

“It harmonizes protection orders to have them available on one form,” she said. “That way if someone goes to (court) and asks for a domestic violence order but it doesn’t meet the definition of domestic violence, (the court) can maybe make it a anti-harassment order.”

She said this could help people who request the wrong type of order the first time.

“A petitioner might feel defeated when they try that first attempt and fail,” Rabidue said. “They just give up and not get that second form and ask for protection because it was too exhausting the first time.”

Fulton agrees.

“The Legislature kept talking about a concept of ‘no wrong door,’” Fulton said. “The idea behind that concept is that we do not want petitioners who are coming to court seeking help to get told, ‘No, you have come to the wrong place.’ We want to open doors and have lots of routes for a petitioner to access this process.”

This doesn’t mean everything about the new process is easier.

“The paperwork is longer,” Fulton said. “It takes me a little longer in court because the form is longer. There are more boxes to check and more opportunities to make mistakes.”

However, she doesn’t see this as a bad thing.

“The bottom line is even if it takes me longer, it’s good,” she said. “To do these things right takes time. There are no shortcuts. These are people’s lives being affected. There can be real collateral consequences to having these orders in place or denying them for people … I take that seriously, so it takes the time it takes.”

Codifying case law, best practices

Fulton said the new laws also codify somethings many judicial officers may have already been doing.

Take, for example. a petitioner requesting the wrong type of protection. Fulton said she interpreted case law as allowing her to convert those orders to the correct order and was already doing that. Bu she said not all judicial officers were doing the same thing.

Now, such practice is codified.

“Now, I am required by statute to tell people that if they disagree with my decision, they have a right to something called a revision,” she said. “I am also required to explain the renewal process … I explained all that to people before because I just think it’s good information to provide. But now, as of July 1, statute requires that. All judges should now be doing that.”

New protections, expanded definitions

The new laws also expand some definitions that allow judicial officers to grant protection orders in more situations, Fulton said.

“There were circumstances that on June 1, I would not have been able to grant an order,” she said. “But as of July 1, I can.”

For example, the definition of domestic violence has been expanded to include the term “coercive control.” This means orders can be granted in cases where no physical violence occurred.

While the definition of coercive control is quite technical, Fulton said examples include breaking things in front of the victim and other actions that could intimidate them, such as reckless driving.

It also includes things such as making threats against the victim or the victim’s family and threatening to release intimate photos of the victim.

Rabidue sees this as a positive.

“I think the definition of domestic violence being modified to include coercive control is big,” Rabidue said. “Often times there might not have been physical violence, but coercive control comes through a lot of things. And now us being able to use that to get an order helps victims.”

Serving the orders

Once a temporary order has been granted pending a hearing involving both parties, it remains up to law enforcement to serve those orders. The new law has made some changes to this process as well, Rabidue said.

First, the law now requires that the respondent be served within 24 hours “whenever practical.”

While the inclusion of “whenever practical” gives law enforcement a little leeway, Rabidue said the WWPD makes every effort to make that deadline. If making the service in 24 hours isn’t practical, the delay can’t be any longer than five days.

Police can also use email and social media to serve respondents, she said, adding that there are number of ways to confirm that the respondent received the notice.

“We need to verify it some way,” Rabidue said. “If they respond back to me, that works. If I get a read receipt, that works.”

She also said that she has sent notices over email before, only to have the respondent send angry messages about it to the petitioner. In this case, those messages to the petitioner can be used to verify that the respondent did get the notice and serve as the respondent’s first violation of the order, Rabidue said.

Providing assistance

Both Fulton and Rabidue stressed that there is help available for anyone needing filling out the protection order forms.

Advocates from the Walla Walla YWCA hold clinics at the Walla Walla County Superior Court weekdays from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., where they will assist anyone who needs it with filling out the forms.

Rabidue said if someone feels they need an order but fear the process will be too difficult, she would encourage them to reach out and get help. She said another positive is that petitioners can now attend hearings online and not have to be in the same room as the respondent.

“I would explain the process to them,” she said. “Including the pros and cons of what an order can do for them. I would assure them that myself and the advocates from the YWCA would assist them with the paperwork process and that we would sit with them in court or help them navigate the Webx system to be able to appear remotely.”

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